youth empowerment center ribbon cutting_cc_fc_web.jpgSpecial to the South Florida Times

WEST PALM BEACH — Joshua Thicklin is just 16 but already the junior at G-Star School of the Arts in West Palm Beach not only knows that he wants to be a sports anchor on  ESPN’s Sports Center; he’s already honing his skills and getting paid for it, too, around $20 per hour.

At the Youth Empowerment Center in Palm Beach County, Joshua gets to work in the Audio Visual learning component, producing and editing commercials and shooting events for clients such as the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.

Now there is another of those centers, which are located in communities with high drug activity, school drop-out rates or black-on-black crime. On March 29, outgoing West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel joined about 100 youth for the grand opening of the latest addition at the popular Gaines Park, 1501 N. Australian Ave.

The Empowerment Centers initiative began in 2007, designed to give children a place where they could determine what programs they wanted and which ones would give them opportunities to take better control of  their lives, hence empowerment, said Christine Thrower, West Palm Beach’s director of Parks and Recreation.

“The concept of ‘I can create my own business and run with it’ is really a living, breathing piece of what we do here. You want to teach kids that they can get a livable, sustainable wage, not minimum wage,” Thrower said. “But they need a skill for that.”

The Gaines Park center was opened because one in the Northwood section of the city has exceeded its capacity.  The facility offers state-of-the-art audio visual equipment, editing and mixing boards and computers, with a focus on digital technology, along with a game room and a weight room.

Program Coordinator Michael Seville said even the weight room was part of the design to help kids maintain an active, healthy lifestyle.

The Audio Video Production component is headed by Dwayne Taylor, a graduate of the University of Southern California Film School, who has produced music and television videos in Los Angeles and New York CIty for celebrities such as Jay Z and Ludacris. His company hires the students to shoot, produce and edit commercials for businesses in South Florida.

The students’ work has aired on Comcast Cable, Discovery Channel, Black Entertainment Television and other national and local channels.  Comcast has sponsored a Digital Connectors class since 2009 for low-income youth and young adults ages 16-21.  Taylor instructs them on digital media/video production, computers, leadership and entrepreneurship.

The students also visit local video production facilities, take part in special workshops to improve their writing and meet with local Comcast employees who provide career counseling and help them hone their leadership, interviewing skills and resumes, said Marta Casas-Celaya, director of Government and Community Affairs for Comcast.

After they complete the course, they often go back into their communities to volunteer to help narrow the digital divide for senior citizens, churches and others.

“Gaines Park was always envisioned as the site for the Comcast Digital Connectors Program,” said Casas-Celaya.

West Palm Beach City Commissioner Ike Robinson said the program at Gaines Park has been a long-time coming, but he credited Frankel for her vision for the youth of West Palm Beach.

Interviewed after the ceremony, Joshua said the program offers a range of job opportunities.

“It gives us a trade that we can work with, because television is an industry that never runs out,” he said

Daphne Taylor may be reached at