By: Mariel Carbone | WCTV Eyewitness News
March 13, 2019
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- At 21-years-old, Cassandra Hayes was working at a local produce store on Crawfordville Highway.
She had no high school diploma and felt stuck.
"I wanted to be more successful so I could get a better job," she said. But, without that diploma, she was struggling to find a better job.
That's when she met Dr. Kimball Thomas.
"He gave me an application, and at first I threw it away. Because I didn't believe him," she said.
That application was for the city's TEMPO program, or Tallahassee Engaged in Meaningful Productivity for Opportunity. It's an outreach program targeting "disconnected youth" in Tallahassee. Thomas leads the program and was persistent with Hayes until she joined, helping her gain an education.
Hayes set a goal complete her GED by her 22nd birthday. And, she did it.
"It feels like more doors are open," she said.
Thomas recruits by foot, walking the streets of low income neighborhoods in Tallahassee. He stops and speaks to young adults walking the streets, specifically looking for what's called "disconnected youth." Those are people age 16 to 24 who are not in school and may or may not be employed. Crime stats show they are the most likely group to become involved in or become a victim of crime.
Once signed up, Thomas helps the participants finish their education, apply for college or a trade school and find jobs. Partners like ACE and Career Source Capital Region have even helped cover the costs and educate those involved.
"We care about our young people in this city who are not engaged. Our young people who are not cookie cut for certain things. Our young people who are not in the public school system who dropped out of the public school system. Our young adults who are looking for gainful employment but don't have the necessary skills for that," he said.
Thomas believes the program can significantly help reduce crime, as a caveat for participation is that you are not allowed to be arrested or violate your probation.
"You can't get arrested, and you can't have any violations of probation. And every last one of them has stuck to that script so far," said Thomas.
The program started last year, with the goal to enlist 70 participants. Now, 16 months later, 400 people have participated. And, that number is growing because Thomas said the program is working.
"They don't commit crime once they start this program. I think it's something that we have for them that they have to be accountable," he said,
Right now, the program is totally mobile. But, Thomas hopes to have a center within the next year. He also wants to have case managers to help coordinate with the individuals involved. The City of Tallahassee has requested state funding to assist with the program.
For Hayes, who is now working two jobs and pursuing an education at Lively Technical College, she said the opportunity can be life changing.
"(Those interested) have nothing to lose. They can get their education for free, and have all the support they need. Why not do it?" she said.