Teen apprenticeship program prepares students for life

 by Shawn Nowlin

Alieyah Preston

Things that the average Roanoke teenager today has to deal with differ significantly from previous generations. The accumulated data is overwhelming: nearly one in five teens had at least one major depressive episode last year, six in ten used marijuana, and close to 71 percent said they cannot go 48 hours without using social media.

Creating a space where teens feel respected and heard usually determines how receptive they’ll be to the adults around them.

Roanoke’s Apprenticeship Program provides teens, ages 14-18, with an opportunity to learn practical skills and job experience in various city departments through Rapid Engagement of Support in the Event of Trauma (RESET). These include Transportation, Facilities, Stormwater Management, Parks & Recreation, and Fleet Management.

Part of the Star City Safe Initiative, the program is one of Roanoke’s strategic measures to intervene, prevent and mitigate local youth violence. To date, 37 teens have completed the program, including 11 individuals who were recently recognized at a ceremony.

Diamond Jefferson, whose son Disaiah Wilson was among that group, said, “I am so proud of him. I have no doubt that he will go on and do great things. Not only is he really intelligent, but he is also very kind, compassionate, and respectful.”

Said Roanoke’s Director of Human Resources Angelia Vernon, “We are ecstatic to celebrate the recent accomplishments of our fifth cohort of teen apprentices under the Star City Safe Initiative. Parents love this program because it provides a great opportunity for the youth to gain valuable experience and life skills.”  

As a parent, Alyshia Merchant says the program’s reputation motivated her to get her daughter involved. When Alieyah Preston, 15, finished the program, she was offered a summer job at Hotel Roanoke that pays $15.00 an hour.

Disaiah Wilson with mom Diamond Jefferson

“I heard about the opportunity through my connections with the city. Alieyah is at that age where she is deciding what she wants to do with her life. She applied for it,  and they sent her a link to do an interview through Zoom. It was cool because I got to do it with her,” Merchant, an acclaimed realtor, said. “Every week, she would go downtown where she learned professional etiquette, how to dress for success, and much more. She was so happy when she earned her certificate from Judge Onzlee Ware.”

Determined, bright and focused students like Preston and Wilson are the future. In the fall, the city intends to enroll another group of interested teens.