03/15/11 — New program will help add youths to work force

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New program will help add youths to work force

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 15, 2011 1:46 PM

In addition to giving at-risk youths in Wayne County a reason to stay off the streets and out of trouble, Daryl Woodard, executive director and founder of Smart Choices for Youth, is taking advantage of a federal program that would also add about 50 people to the county's employable labor pool.

Called YouthBuild, the program, which has been administered by the U.S. Department of Labor focuses on youths, ages 16 to 24, who have been in the juvenile justice system, who are aging out of foster care, who are high school dropouts and others. Its goal, Woodard explained, is to not only give people the opportunity earn their GEDs or adult high school diplomas, but also to teach them a trade -- all while they participate in a community service.

For Wayne County, Smart Choices will be overseeing an $875,000 YouthBuild grant as it partners with Habitat for Humanity, Wayne Community College, the school system, law enforcement, probation and parole, the Employment Security office and others.

Woodard explained that youths will have the opportunity to apply to the program and then, once accepted, over the next two years, earn their GED, learn a trade and practice that trade while working with Habitat.

"They'll be doing community service, but also practicing the trade they're learning," he said. "What we want to do is get them educated, teach them a trade and make them employable in the long run."

In addition, those in the program will earn a paycheck for their efforts, something above minimum wage.

"That's to keep them from selling drugs, keep them motivated to do the right things and to keep them off the streets," he said.

But, Woodard added, it won't be an easy program to get into. Those who apply will have to demonstrate that they are serious and committed.

"We're looking for a mental toughness," he said.

Once the program is up and running in another month or so, he is hoping to have between 100 and 150 applicants from which to select the 50 or so participants.

"We just found out about this," he said.

Other benefits for those in the program will be help with childcare while in school and on the job, as well as assistance with books, clothing and other needs.

"There are a lot of fringe benefits," he said.

Then, once the program is over, he said they don't plan to just leave these 50 people to fend for themselves. He plans to follow up with them and help them find jobs in the community.

"The goal is to have 50 new gainfully employed individuals in the community who are paying taxes and are productive members of society," he said. "That's what we want."

For more information on the program, visit the website www.scfy.us, where application information will soon be posted. Youths ages 16 to 24 are invited to apply, while parents, teachers, law enforcement officials, ministers and others can also recommend them.