Billy Davis is a man with a mission.
The founder/executive director of A Positive Step of Monroe County, Inc. has dedicated his life to helping troubled teens find their way in life, at a time when youth employment opportunities are limited, and government funding for job programs is drying up.
Since 1999, Davis's non-profit organization has worked under the auspices of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice to provide a variety of services to help such kids get their lives on track.
A Positive Step is now branching out into the world of art, to raise funds for its summer job program, appropriately entitled "Idle Hands."
In a partnership with Waste Management, Inc., Davis is getting area businesses to pay his kids and other volunteers to paint Key West scenes on their dumpsters, with the proceeds going to fund Idle Hands. The first such session took place Saturday in the parking lot of Key West High School.
"My grandmother always told me that an idle mind is the devil's workshop," Davis said. "I set this non-profit up with the DJJ in 1999, with a contract to provide the first Conditional Release program in Monroe County. Over the years, what we've been trying to do is become more focused on youngsters and strengthening their families. Idle Hands is one of the ways we're trying to accomplish this goal."
The conditional release program provides case management and family counseling sessions for kids who are released from juvenile detention centers.
In May of 2011, Davis discovered the South Florida Workforce agency was going to cancel its summer youth employment program for those under the age of 18; a troubling development, in his view.
So, Davis took the initiative to start asking area businesspeople, and some of his friends, to help generate funds to start his own employment program. He came up with $12,000. Davis then approached the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Keys, who were going to be negatively affected by the Workforce decision, as some of the clubs' youth counselors came to them through the employment program.
Davis provided the club with six counselors. The city of Key West found jobs for four more.
Idle Hands was born.
"What we did is we provided two weeks of in-classroom training for the kids, of what we call job readiness," Davis said. "We modified a curriculum that we found online, and taught the kids what their employer was going to expect from them, as far as being on time, and so on. Winn-Dixie paid for their lunches. The classroom was provided to us by the May Sands School. Everybody was pitching in. It was a real community effort."
At the end of the first week, the students who attended the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily sessions faithfully and punctually received a $50 gift card. The ones who goofed off, or didn't take the training seriously, got the axe.
"Just like in real life," Davis said with a laugh. "If they started to be late, or miss sessions, we'd talk to them. If that didn't work, they were fired. We're here to train and help these kids. I wasn't going to start babysitting them as well."
The students who finished both weeks of training received a $75 gift card, and more importantly, summer jobs, at $8 per hour, for six hours per day, five days a week.
Davis then turned to City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley, who offered to represent A Positive Step at the City Commission, and try to help them get some funding for the 2012 program. The city came up with $34,000. Davis' efforts turned up another $20,000, including funds raised by the Poco Pelo Chic salon.
"In April, I talked to Key West High School and asked if they could help recruit kids we could give employment to," Davis said. "They did, and also gave us the classroom for the job training."
On day-one, 35 kids showed up. By the end, 27 were left standing. Some worked for the city, some for the Boys and Girls Club, and the rest found jobs at Habitat for Humanity.
In August, Davis's efforts paid off, when the city again agreed to provide $34,000 towards the program.
"What we're doing now is bringing our part to the table," he said. "Les at Poco Pelo is again doing some fundraising. And one day [Waste Management District Manager] Greg Sullivan, whom I know from the Rotary Club, came up to me and told me he had an idea. He said, 'you go talk to business owners who have our Dumpsters. Tell them that if they'll give you $100, we'll pick them up and return them painted."
Saturday's paint-a-thon marks the beginning, not the end, of the campaign. Davis hopes continue with the sessions, painting five Dumpsters per month, every month.
"It really was a lot of fun," said local artist Rick Worth, who claimed he served as a "referee" between the kids and the paint. "Kids often lose steam after a little while, but this was a full, fun day."
One youngster painted a bicycle and a fence on one of the garbage bins. Some of the kids weren't even planning on painting but ended up with a brush and a bucket of paint.
Saturday's session did, in fact, yield five painted bins for local businesses, netting $500 for the program.
So far, three more are signed up for January. Davis is hoping for two more.
"Painting the Dumpsters is actually an old idea," said Waste Management's Sullivan. "I did the same thing about 15 years ago with former Commissioner Merili McCoy for Clean Florida Keys. I've known Billy for a long time, and I think his program is great. We put it together and had a very positive Saturday morning."
As to Davis's goal of painting five bins per month, Sullivan says the sky's the limit.
"We'll have to see how the community likes them," he said. "We have well over 1,000 Dumpsters out there. It could go on for a long time."