ORLANDO, Florida. – Virginelle Vincent noticed that a 16-year-old boy she works with needed emotional support. Vincent was coming home from work when she overheard the teenager having a conversation with a colleague and seemed distressed.
“I could feel something was wrong, so I immediately gave him a call,” Vincent said. “I asked her if she was planning or trying to harm herself, I couldn’t give myself a straight answer, so I knew at that moment I had to go to her house.”
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Vincent, 25, who works with the Mercy Drive Kidz Zone program in the city of Orlando, recalled the incident that happened the last week of the school year.
“I kept her on the phone the whole trip. I started asking him what are your plans? ‘So well, you don’t want to go home but where are you going?’ She was like, ‘I’m going to stay at this Taco Bell until they close, which is 11 p.m.,'” Vincent said.
The student lawyer then met the teenager at a fast food restaurant near the teenager’s school.
“I fed her, she opened up about the details that happened. It was an incident involving inappropriate behavior on campus that resulted in a level 4 expulsion. It was very hard on her and because she was so ashamed and afraid of her mother’s reaction that she didn’t want to go home,” Vincent recalled, adding that the girl planned to stay with a friend.
“I went on to ask him, ok once you’re there, do you know how long you’re going to be there?” Do you know if they will welcome you? What if they decide they don’t want you to stay there? What are your plans? And so I think that got him thinking and got his wheels spinning,” she said.
Virginia said that was when the teenager realized her best choice was to come home to her mother. So she took her home and spoke to the girl’s mother.
“Somehow I managed to convince mum to call the school the next day so we could see if we could get her sentence reduced. And so today she’s still enrolled in her school; she was punished yes, but it was a 5 day suspension from school instead of being expelled,” Vincent said.
Vincent is going to school for a degree in psychology.
“I feel like that’s my goal. It’s like, you know, it’s our mission, we’ve all taken an oath to protect these children to level the playing field for them,” she said.
In 2021, Vincent, who is originally from Haiti and moved to Miami with his parents when he was 11, became an administrative assistant for the Mercy Drive Kidz Zone program in the city of Orlando, which currently serves approximately 200 children.
“We serve middle and high school students, so we check on their academic, emotional, mental, economic (well-being),” Vincent said.
The program is called Mercy Drive Kidz Zone because it is centered along Mercy Drive in the northwest part of Orlando. Families living in the area have the opportunity to take advantage of the benefits of the program. The goal is to enrich their children by motivating them to pursue higher education. It also provides positive parenting skills and helps keep older children out of trouble and leading them to success.
“Watching them grow, seeing them get involved in different activities, bonding and bonding with them, is really invaluable,” Vincent said.
When asked if she considered herself a hero to the children she served, Vincent struggled to come up with an answer.
“I never saw myself as a hero, you know, I never took the time to measure myself in that way,” she said. “We are here to serve these children. I put passion in my work, I am ready to go above and beyond for these children.
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