ORLANDO, Fla. – Virginelle Vincent noticed a 16-year-old she works with was in need of emotional support. Vincent was on her way home from work when she overheard the teen having a conversation with a co-worker and seemed in distress.
“I could sense something was wrong, so I immediately gave her a phone call,” Vincent said. “I asked her if she was planning or trying to hurt herself, could not give me a straight answer, so I knew right then and there I had to get to her location.”
The 25-year-old Vincent, who works with the city of Orlando Mercy Drive Kidz Zone program, recalled the incident happened in the last week of the school year.
“I kept her on the phone throughout the whole ride. I started asking her what are your plans? ‘So fine, you do not want to go home but where are you gonna go?’ Her answer to me was, ‘I’m going to stay in this Taco Bell until they close which was 11 p.m.,’” Vincent said.
The student advocate then met up with the teen at a fast food restaurant near the teen’s school.
“I fed her, she opened up about the details that happened. It was an incident that involved some inappropriate behaviors on campus which resulted in a level 4 expulsion. It was very tough for her and because she was so ashamed and scared of her mom’s reaction she did not want to go back home,” Vincent recalled, adding that the young girl was planning on staying at a friend’s house.
“I proceeded by asking her, ok once you get there do you know how long you’re going to stay there? Do you know if they’re going to be welcoming you? What if they decide they don’t want you to stay there? What are your plans? And so I think that got her thinking got her wheels turning,” she said.
Virginia said that’s when the teen realized her best choice was to go back home to mom and so she gave her a ride home and talked to the girl’s mom.
“Some way somehow, I was able to convince mom to call the school the next day so that we could see if we could get her punishment reduced. And so today, she’s still enrolled at her school; she was punished yes, but it was a 5-day in-school suspension instead of being expelled,” said Vincent.
Vincent is going to school for a degree in psychology.
“It feels like it’s my purpose. It feels like, you know, it’s our mission, we all took an oath to protect these kids to level the playing field for them,” she said.
In 2021, Vincent who is a native of Haiti and moved to Miami with her parents when she was 11, came on board as an administrative assistant for the city of Orlando’s Mercy Drive Kidz Zone program, which currently serves about 200 children.
“We serve from middle and high schoolers, so we check on their academic, emotional, mental, economic (wellbeing),” Vincent said.
The program is called Mercy Drive Kidz Zone because it’s centered along Mercy Drive in the northwestern part of Orlando. Families living in the area have an opportunity to experience the benefits of the program. The goal is to enrich their children by motivating them to achieve higher education. It also offers positive parenting skills, and it helps keep older children out of trouble and lead them towards success.
“Seeing them grow, seeing them get involved into different activities, getting to build connections and bonds with them, it really is priceless,” Vincent said.
When asked if she saw herself as a hero to the children she serves, Vincent struggled to find an answer.
“I never saw myself as a hero you know I never took the time to measure myself in such a way,” she said. “We’re here to serve these kids. I put passion in my work, I am willing to go above and beyond for these kids.”