In a nutshell, Think Big for Kids is a program that aims to help 2,000 Tampa Bay youths become workforce-ready by 2022. Tech entrepreneur, Tony DiBenedetto, brings his proven mantra of “thinking big” to a venture with a mission to help underprivileged youths unlock their full potential and become the next generation of local talent in high demand.
Think Big for Kids introduces teens from low-income households to a wide variety of career opportunities and assists them in achieving post-graduation goals for employment. The program engages Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay students from sixth to 12th grade through the completion of on-the-job training, trade school certification, or a two-year or four-year degree, depending on their chosen career track.
The idea behind Think Big for Kids came to DiBenedetto after visiting teens at several Boys & Girls Clubs and observing a general lack of career awareness and preparation for life after high school. At one club, he met with 80 high school students and only three raised a hand when he asked if they had plans for post-graduation education. DiBenedetto, whose own childhood was marked by poverty and upheaval, felt compelled to put his time and resources behind formalizing a program to help at-risk kids.
“Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay have a 98% high school graduation rate, but they can’t do it all. I realized our community wasn’t doing enough to help disadvantaged teens prepare for the future,” said DiBenedetto. “At the same time, I consistently heard from CEOs that finding great talent continues to be one of their biggest challenges. Think Big for Kids is a convergence of two major needs in our community, with the potential to make a tremendous humanitarian and economic impact.”
Think Big for Kids partners with area businesses representing high-growth industries to offer field trips, career showcases, mentorship, internships, scholarships and ultimately job offers. From electrical contracting and nursing, to cyber security and technical design, partner companies provide a long-term commitment that will see the teens through the program, with an eye toward building their respective job pipelines with known talent they have already invested in.
Volunteers and partner companies begin working with Think Big kids in middle school, when statistics show they are at greatest risk for peer pressure and lagging behind academically. By keeping them engaged in their early teens at the Boys & Girls Clubs, Think Big for Kids has a platform to introduce different careers, industries and companies across the area, identify general interests and begin to shape individualized career tracks. The focus is on educational preparedness, whether that means going to trade school or navigating college admissions.
“We work with kids who are often overlooked, under-challenged and would otherwise wind up in low-wage jobs with very little chance of career advancement,” said DiBenedetto. “This program doesn’t just focus on the ‘A’ students. We help all kids find a path to success that fits their passion, regardless of their grades or background. Our goal is to prepare 2,000 teens served through Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay for the workforce by 2022.”