Students on clock for summer jobs

Gabe Finley, 15, center, assists Shirley and David Jeffs, of the Village of Polo Ridge, with their order at Culver’s. Finley plans to work until July, then return to his Florida Virtual School studies.

Students may have more than camps to look forward to this summer as they seek full-time jobs, work part-time gigs or spend their hours on volunteer opportunities. With thousands of local students out of school for summer break, job shortages affecting business across the U.S. could see an economic boost in Florida. Florida has an unemployment rate of 4.8%, below the national average of 5.8%, according to the latest statistics from the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. This April unemployment rate in Florida was down from 9.2% in April 2020. Locally, out of 32,663 eligible workers in The Villages metro area, 6.6% are unemployed.

Working With Family

Plenty of students also are taking part-time jobs locally at restaurants — both sitdown style and fast food.

Gabe Finley, a 14-year-old, was asked by his uncle Shad Finley to work the register at Culver’s this summer.

“It’s been pretty great for a first job,” Gabe said.

Gabe will finish out his job by July so he can get back to school in Florida Virtual School. He will be entering 10th grade this year.

Like many businesses in the area, Shad Finley has been struggling to get more employees on top of his core team. Finley not only recruited his nephew to work the drive-thru register as the restaurant locked its doors to sitdown dining but also brought his mother, Shirley Walleser, in to help keep the business going.

A Summer Work Crew

The Sumter County School Board has been instituting a student work crew for students to help maintain school district facilities since 2004, employing hundreds of students for temporary summer work. This includes jobs like painting both inside and outside buildings, moving furniture from one facility to another and pressure-washing buildings and sidewalks. The beautification of these facilities mainly is done by students, in crews of about 25, with two supervisors.

But even this job has seen shortages. 

Eric Suber, risk management director for the Sumter County School Board is one of the coordinators for the work crew. 

“We actually had a decrease in the number of applicants this year,” Suber said. “I think that many of our local businesses are feeling the burden of being short-staffed as well.”

According to Suber, students’ records are checked for behavioral and disciplinary actions, as well as their current GPA, to be considered for hiring. 

“The greatest benefit to the district is that we get some very talented students to assist in keeping the schools looking great,” Suber said. “In the past, some students have shown off their artistic creativity in painting some very good logos at the high schools. We also hope that the students can benefit from having a job, making some money and experiencing what it is like in the workforce.”

Summer Volunteering

The summer months are an incredible opportunity for students to obtain community service hours and get valuable internship experience. Allyson Kenny, a ninth-grader, has charted nearly 230 hours already in her past two years of volunteering at Horses with a Mission, a therapeutic riding ranch for special-needs students based in Groveland. She will continue to exercise this passion into the summer. 

“There are many reasons why I am so passionate about volunteering with the therapy horses,” Allyson said. “One of them is that it helps me focus on something beneficial rather than focusing on the stress I have from school or other things in my life. Also, I get to help horses as well as kids who go about life different than others, and I get to do it with people I enjoy being around.”

Allyson hopes to take these experiences into her own life as her career possibilities include starting a rescue-and-adopt business or becoming an equine trainer.

Horses with a Mission has eight horses ready to serve, each with their own personalities and traits.

The ranch is always looking for volunteers to help in a variety of duties, said Victoria “Vicki” DAngelo, the lead instructor and owner.

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Job Fair

Some students took advantage of a jump-start opportunity to find employment.

Sumter Prep Academy hosted a job fair May 19 at its gymnasium for over 70 students from Wildwood Middle High School, The Villages High School and South Sumter High School. All students were graduating seniors. 

A total of 26 companies were in attendance, including local EMS provider American Medical Response, the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, T&D Pools and Crevalle Boats from Wildwood.

Thirty-seven students received job offers during the fair, and nearly a dozen others were pending or under consideration.

“This is an annual event for us as we try to encourage and assist our new graduates to the world outside of high school. We’d like our graduates to be employed, enrolled, or enlisted as they seek direction for their future lives,” said Sumter School Superintendent Rick Shirley in a news release.

Staff Writer Garrett Shiflet can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5367, or