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Health-care career camps raise hopes of Delta youth
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Seventh-graders in the Mississippi Delta are discovering career opportunities in a place they least expect -- home.
A collaborative project between Mississippi State University and the Delta Health Alliance is motivating these students to dream big, study hard and return as doctors, nurses, respiratory specialists, radiology technicians and other health-care professionals.
The project, known as Delta Futures, is a series of health-care career camps to recruit young people into jobs as medical professionals to ease a continual shortage of trained personnel in the region's health-care system. Two of the camps were held in 2007. The third is scheduled for April 4-5 at Holmes County State Park in Durant.
“Because most of our staff members are from the Mississippi Delta, they are passionate about the area and understand the conditions under which people live,” said Delta Futures program coordinator Margaret Cotton. “We want to help close the gap in the region's health-care work force by motivating and preparing middle school students for those jobs.”
Seventh graders who live in one of 18 Delta counties are eligible for the two-day camps. The cost for the students to attend, including meals and lodging, is paid through a grant from the Delta Health Alliance.
Students accepted for camp must have a grade-point average of 80 or better, be involved in their schools and communities, and obtain two letters of recommendation from adults not in their family. At camp, students tour different medical facilities, participate in personal development exercises and interact with medical professionals who make presentations.
Many of the students who participated in Delta Futures camps are already exploring academic prerequisites for college or certification training with their school counselors.
“These children have dreams of what they want to be, and we are feeding those dreams,” said career discovery teacher Lynette Stafford of O'Bannon High School in Greenville. “We may have future doctors, nurses and other medical professionals because they went to this camp.”
Stafford's students left camp last year with high hopes and the realization they can pursue a dream that will challenge their intellect, abilities and inner strength.
“I learned it will take much effort to achieve a career in the health-care field, but all the hard work will pay off,” said Devanta Tyler, an O'Bannon seventh-grader.
Nayeisha Campbell, Devanta's mother, said she felt the camp helped her son understand the desire she has for him to achieve.
“I was a little worried about him attending the camp, but I realized he would be fine because he was going to learn,” she said. “His grades are improving, and he has been searching the Internet for information on health-care careers.”
Angela Johnson, principal of Chambers Middle School in Arcola, said the camp strengthened her daughter Ashley's desire to attend college. The experience also caused Ashley to decide where she wants to go to school -- MSU -- and what she wants to do with her life. Johnson accompanied the Chambers students to camp.
“Visiting different medical locations, listening to speakers and seeing their displays awakened many questions she had for her father and me,” Johnson said. “Initially, Ashley only wanted to discuss becoming a veterinarian. Now, she is open to a broader range of medical fields of study.”
Johnson said parents should be pleased that the camps are well-structured, organized and presented in an educational setting. The camps expose youth to numerous health-care career options and teach empowerment through leadership, decision making and healthy lifestyle choices, she said.
“Unlike what some people believe about the Delta, our area is not a vast wasteland,” Johnson said. “We have excellent minds, wholesome values, and we are truly concerned about developing our communities. Delta Futures is one way of sharing the positive aspects of the future with our children.”
The sense of community that people feel has been a key factor in ensuring that Delta Futures will continue, said program associate Sharon Polk, who is responsible for camp logistics. The project depends upon local support.
“By making children aware there is a shortage of medical professionals and there is something they can do to help, we put tools in the hands of our children -- the Delta's brightest hope -- to succeed,” Polk said.
Contact: Margaret Cotton, (662) 325-6792