As 15 business attired teens crossed Dade Boulevard from Miami Beach Senior High to the 21st Street Recreational Center, they began a day that Wendy Unger, Membership Relations Manager at the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, predicted just might change their lives.
Thursday, March 24 brought the 25th annual Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce Career Shadow Day, an event that offers the city’s youth a unique opportunity to explore the diverse and intriguing career options available to them in the future.
“It is an opportunity for students to see what the real world of work looks like,” said Unger.
Charmaine Williams, Miami Beach Senior High guidance counselor, was in charge of selecting the participating students, determining their interests, and organizing them the day of the event. The vast majority of the students selected were members of the Future Business Leaders of America organization because of their demonstrated interest in the business world. They were asked to select five career interests from a long list, and Unger later used these selections to connect students with mentors. Each of the 15 students was matched with his own mentor.
Because of the maturity of the FBLA members chosen to participate, the 25th Annual Shadow Day was, according to Unger, “One of the best.”
“This was really perfect,” said Unger.
At the 21st Street Rec Center, fifteen managers and employees across industries awaited, ready to accept their young and eager shadows. Students and mentors immediately began to bond over donuts and muffins sponsored by Tremont Towing.
After a brief introduction, mentors took their students off to their respective jobs. Some students, like Wendy Goya, FBLA member and intern at the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, were able to experience some out-of-the-box professions that one can only find in a place like South Florida.
“The experience taught me that I should choose a career I love, but one that has many alternative routes,” said Goya, who shadowed a magazine photo shoot producer. “This gave me more perspective and direction in life.”
Other mentors offered insight into the political undercurrent of Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County. Karen Aronowitz, president of the United Teachers of Dade, took on a shadow for the day to provide a look into the inner workings of the public education system that students experience every day.
“No one ever grows up thinking, ‘I want to run a union when I’m older,’” said Lucia Rynka, FBLA member and Shadow Day participant, “but to be honest, my experience with Ms. Aronowitz has completely changed my mind about my choice of career.”
I was matched with George Neary, the well connected and likable Vice President of Cultural Tourism at the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. On this particular Thursday, his 27th floor office in Downtown was bustling. As a result of the fire at Miami International Airport and its subsequent shutting down, important attendees of an event scheduled for that night were stranded, unable to fly into Miami. Therefore, I was able to experience the Travel and Tourism industry in “crisis mode”, as an employee put it. This gave me an inside look at the stress level that often pervades the working world.
At noon, mentors and students reconvened at Avanti Café. Stories were shared over Chicken Parmesan, as students gained first-hand perspective on each of the professions represented by the mentors in attendance. Students emerged optimistic.
“I’m not as worried about my future anymore,” said Goya. “There are jobs out there for me.”