Visiting youngsters get to experience the ins and outs of many professions at Wannado City, including that of the firefighter
Amari Jackson has a passion for fighting crime. Donning her police uniform Friday afternoon, she used her cunning and intelligence to sniff out clues and help track down a set of evil-doers.
However, Jackson – not to be confused with Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie wide receiver Amarri Jackson – will have to wait a few years before her love of chasing down robbers can translate into a real-world reduction of the crime rate.
That's because Jackson, a pint-sized youngster who is part of safety Jermaine Phillips' Flip's Squad Career Exploration program, was just playing along in a game of "cops and robbers" at Wannado City, a role-playing theme park that allows children to dress up and learn firsthand about a variety of careers.
"I did the police to find the robbers, because I want to be a police officer when I grow up," Jackson said. "It was exciting for me to learn how police catch the robbers."
Fighting crime was one of many career opportunities the children had the chance to learn about Friday, as the afternoon at Wannado City allowed them to test their skills as firefighters, models, rock climbers, television broadcasters, lawyers, judges, reporters and paramedics, just to name a few.
Friday's event capped the Flip's Squad program, which included four weekly sessions at the NFL Youth Education Town Centers in the Tampa area where various professionals, including some Bucs staffers, shared their insight into the skills, training and education needed to excel in their careers.
The top 30 children in the program were selected to take the trip to Wannado City based on their attendance, behavior, quiz scores and an essay, and the lucky winners were treated to a fun-filled day that opened their eyes to an array of career choices.
From dressing up in heavy firefighter gear and hopping in the back of a kid-sized fire engine to donning glittering gowns and strutting down a modeling runway, the children learned about future job possibilities they might have never considered before.
"I did modeling, I got in a fire truck, I did rock climbing, and I had fun," Robernesha Certee said. "I hadn't thought of rock climbing, and I was excited to learn about modeling."
Exposing the youngsters to opportunities they might never have pondered otherwise was the driving force behind the Flip's Squad program, said Phillips.
"The thing I wanted to accomplish from the events I've had and from the experience at Wannado City is just for the kids to realize that the expectations and the things they can do are not just in a box or the barriers people put around them so many times," Phillips said. "I just want to let them know that outside this box that so many people keep them in there's a whole world for them to explore and in that world they can be anything they want to be. I think it really starts by trying to reach one kid at a time, which this program is trying to do.
"The experience at Wannado City allowed them to experience different things, from lawyers to firemen to police chiefs to models to reporters to working at Publix. They experienced so many different things in so many different ways to show them that this is all at your fingertips, you just have to make the necessary sacrifices to be what you want to be."
As the kids enjoyed the day role-playing numerous careers, the smile on Phillips' face rivaled those of the youngsters.
"I had a wonderful time today," Phillips said. "It was quite the experience, especially for the kids, to see the expressions on their faces and to hear some of the things they said. I had one young man say to me, 'Thank you so much Jermaine for bringing us out here today and allowing us to experience this.' It brings joy to your heart and a smile to your face.
"This is our future, so if we can reach them and show them that there are no limitations to what they can be, then it's a job well done. I think today they are starting to realize that, so I think it was a definite success and it was a great time."
Fitting in with the theme park's motto – "Wannado City, where kids can do what they Wannado" – Ro'mel Bryant said that freedom was the best part of the trip.
"My favorite part was that we got to be anything we wanted to be," said Bryant.