Experiential Learning Through Workforce Lab

by | Aug 9, 2023 | Cultivating Connections, Financial Sustainability, Supporting Lifetime Learners | 0 comments

Now in its eighth year, Workforce Lab continues to prepare young high schoolers who live in the Parker Street neighborhood for life beyond high school as they enter the workforce. Primarily a financial capability program, Workforce Lab teaches soft job skills in an environment that is shaped by the Gospel.

This summer, 11 students participated in experiential learning through:

  • understanding the importance of budgeting and implementing in their own lives
  • earning stipends and possibly losing stipends for infractions
  • opening their own bank accounts and making deposits
  • exploring different career options
  • creating resumes for themselves and practicing interview skills through mock interviews
  • volunteering at local nonprofits
  • participating in a pregnancy prevention workshop

“With a lot of our crew being rising freshman, basic communication, job, and life skills were the most important for them to understand through the lectures and hands-on experiences we offered,” says Sarah Bonner, PSM’s Young Adult Program Director.

Starting small was key. Bonner began with challenging students to give daily compliments to each other and practice answering interview questions in front of the class. “The week one interviews were full of fidgety, laughing students who could barely hold eye-contact in the middle of a serious conversation,” she says.

By the end of the program, participants found their voices and were encouragements to one another. In addition, “their interview skills grew exponentially, and they no longer needed to be corrected on professionalism, but instead were answering questions at great length and description as it related back to a personal story,” Bonner says.

Financial Capability

Learning to budget is a gift that keeps on giving! That’s why participants spent time understanding important budgeting tips that were then put into practice in the real world. “Anytime we would stop for a treat or for a fun Friday lunch, they were given a specific budget they had to stay underneath,” says Bonner, who helped them understand prices, taxes, etc.

Participants also earned actual paychecks this summer in the form of stipends with the goal of helping students learn about saving and developing the habit of saving now before they officially enter the workforce. Teaching responsibility, infractions and inappropriate behavior meant they did not receive their full stipends. As a bonus, a portion of these stipends will be matched when the students graduate on time from high school.

Lifetime Learning

Participants heard from community speakers and visited/toured Lakeland Fire Department Station 1, Lakeland Regional Health, Southeastern University, Catapult Lakeland, The Well, Polk State College, and more. In addition, participants learned their DiSC personality traits to better understand their motivations, stressors, and how to best work with others and reduce conflict.

They also spent time thinking about their future careers. “A lot of teenagers and kids in this generation are all wanting to be one of two things when they grow up: a TikTok influencer or a professional athlete. Although we want our students to chase their dreams, we also want them to know the other possible careers this world has to offer them. Most of the time students say these very popular careers because they don’t know of anything else,” Bonner says.

For the duration of the program, students spent time researching three careers and then chose one for an in-depth project. They then put their learned communication skills to the test by presenting their projects to the class. Bonner says some of these project ideas came from site visits and guest speakers such as Lakeland Fire Department Training Chief, Matt Brown. Career projects included: video game designer, astronomer, athletic trainer, mechanic, EMT, entrepreneur (hairstyle and hair salon owner), and infantry jobs in the military.

Making an Impact

A highlight of the Workforce Lab program is its connection to other local nonprofits. Each week, students traveled around Lakeland to volunteer at organizations such as: Florida Children’s Museum, One More Child, The Salvation Army, Lighthouse Ministries Family Store, and Volunteers in Service to the Elderly (VISTE). Teens participated in a variety of activities from packing food boxes to moving furniture.

“I was so proud of our teenagers this summer,” says Bonner. “I was constantly receiving feedback from people we would visit about their impressive attitudes and work ethic.” In fact, one said, “These kids seem so well rounded, happy, and eager to help. Everyone is impressed with their behavior, their dress, and their outward attitude. The work they did here is so impressive, I can’t express to you how much the tasks they accomplished will help.”

In Their Own Words

Here are a few reflections from these high schoolers:

  • I have learned so many job skills like how to present myself and how to have fun in the workplace. I feel like YAP (Young Adult Program) is the perfect place to prepare for the real world. This program is shaping me to be the best. Not only for myself but for other people as well. – N 
  • They are getting us ready to take accountability for our actions. They also help us find our dream job or a job that we may like. If you like to see new things and explore different places, then YAP is a great place for you. – D
  • This is my second year in YAP and I have enjoyed my coworkers and friends I have made here. We went to many fun places…and we were even able to visit and volunteer at One More Child where they help single moms get on their feet. – M
  • My experience of Parker Street Ministries’ “Young Adult Program” is very exciting because it teaches me life skills. This program guides me on a path where I can already know what can happen when I apply for a real job and interview and lets me see what I can do to help my future. – K
  • Some jobs need to be done and if you do the ones nobody wants to do then you can overcome things in the job that make you stronger and smarter for the future. – L
  • I feel like the teaching about the Bible and understanding more about it has given a better insight and a better feeling of closeness to God and the Bible. – R

Thank You, Supporters!

Workforce Lab is made possible through the prayers and support of many. The 2023 Summer Workforce Lab Program was funded by: CareerSource Polk and Publix Super Markets Charities. Thank you for supporting these young people and helping them prepare for their bright futures!


Parker Street Ministries (PSM) is a 501c3 in Lakeland, Florida, that follows a Gospel-centered model characterized by living, listening, affirming dignity, and building community together in and through the Parker Street neighborhood. Parker Street Ministries is committed to Gospel-centered community development through the focus areas of: Fostering Spiritual Growth so Christ and His Gospel are front and center, Supporting Lifetime Learners through educational opportunities, Stabilizing the Neighborhood by addressing the quality and availability of housing, and Cultivating Connections so gaps in relationships and services are bridged.