At Risk Teens Get a Chance to Earn a College Education

by Victor Lopez
NewsWest 9

ODDESSA--The Odessa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has taken it upon themselves to give students at The Alternative Center and The Ector County Youth Center a chance to straighten up. This is their fifth year to host Career Fest and if things keep going like they have, it won't be their last.

"77% of the kids that we've done, have stayed in school and have not returned to the Alternative Center or the Youth Center," Hispanic Chamber President and CEO, Manny Puga, said.

Dressed to impress, 22 students, from 9th to 12th grade, got their first taste of the real world, the world of landing a job and doing what you have to do to get by.

"We had them research a field they wanted to be in. They're going to interview for that position. We bring in judges that are community leaders and business people, and they're the ones who do the judging," Puga explained.

The Odessa Hispanic Chamber even provided the dress shirts and ties for the kid's big day. All of this comes with the blessings and thanks of school officials.

"They have an opportunity to do things that they don't otherwise. We're very help oriented," Principal Ruby Rodriguez, said. "We're not just out here to be tougher and harder on them. We want to teach them other skills that they don't normally get to practice."

Puga says Hispanics have the highest dropout, drug use and teen pregnancy rates in Odessa, so they needed to step up and do something.

"If we don't do something with these kids, the next step is prison or jail. That's where they're going to wind up," Puga said.

The top six students get a scholarship to Odessa College for one semester. OC picks up the tab, every semester after, if they keep up at least a "C" average.

Principal Rodriguez says, if not for programs like Career Fest, some of these kids may never see the inside of a college class room, "Sometimes, it's not anything that occurs to them. This kind of puts it at a reality base. Without this opportunity, they probably wouldn't think about it."

"Britnee" is a 17-year-old senior. She says she's always wanted to go to college and plans to take full advantage of this opportunity, "My family members haven't really gone and I just want to make them proud. It has driven me more and made me more, it's helped me better myself. I can make it, no matter what I'm going through, no matter my past, I can make it."

She also has some advice for kids her age who claim to hate getting in trouble and need help getting their life back on track.

"Why do you keep doing the things that get you in trouble? I say, they should stay away from the friends they've been hanging out with. Go with a different crowd," "Britnee" said.

Some of the guest speakers at Career Fest included UTPB President Dr. David Watts, Odessa College President Dr. Greg Williams and State Representative Tryon Lewis.