TAMPA - Debra Campbell has spent most of her life refusing to give up.
The director of several local organizations that work with kids, she is founder and president of Forward Thinking Initiatives. A Westchase resident, Campbell works with kids who have big dreams, but don't always have the chance to pursue them.
"The one thing I hope for is that kids can make it no matter what," Campbell said. "We try to put them into a position where they can make something for themselves. We refuse to let them give up."
Campbell has been on quite a wild ride herself. She was a psychology major in college who didn't exactly want to get into psychology, so she decided to go to Japan. She started working with early child development while teaching music and English.
It was a whole new world, but Campbell said it was a life-changing experience.
"Going to Japan was the biggest experience ever," Campbell said. "I learned how to work overseas and I learned the culture and it changed everything."
She came back to America and started working in Philadelphia in international development and managed the international division for the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. Finally, she started her first consulting company, International Competitive Services. As a result, she started to gain the entrepreneurial skills that progressed into something even bigger.
After moving to Tampa, Campbell expanded her business world, partly out of necessity.
"I came to Florida and I couldn't find my career and I needed a job," Campbell said. "I was trying to become an artist and started teaching kids, and I fell in love with teaching."
Campbell hasn't given up her love for art. She teaches at the Hillel School and still dabbles in art. She works with organizations throughout the Tampa Bay region, but working with kids is her biggest passion.
She has taught everything from first grade through high school and she is excited about the Forward Thinking Initiatives program.
Through the program, Campbell runs five summer camps that work with at-risk kids at the middle school and high school levels. It is an organization that teaches kids to become entrepreneurs through camps and workshops. She has a proactive, rather than a reactive plan when it comes to working with kids.
"I try to teach kids workforce skills that will help them in the future," Campbell said. "We don't try to fix problems with at-risk kids, we try to prevent the problems before they happen. For me, working with kids is a perfect fit."
Campbell said she doesn't promise any easy answers.
"The one thing I want is for kids to develop a passion and a passion to achieve their goals," Campbell said. "There are no easy answers. So many of the at-risk kids are gifted. Some kids just don't know what they want to do and they need to be empowered and exposed to things. They need to know how to interact. Video games aren't the way to get that done, so we want to work with them."
Not every kid is going to own his own business, Campbell said, but she is trying to get them off to the right start.
"Not every kid is going to be an entrepreneur," Campbell said. "Some are going to own their own business and some are going to work for other people, but I want kids to know that they can make anything in life their own. They can own it."
To contact Campbell at Forward Thinking Initiatives, call (813) 760-7860 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.