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Training program prepares youths for workforce

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

McDonough resident Carl Alexander is biding his time for the next opportunity to begin a career for himself. He said he's now better prepared to take advantage of that opportunity, because of a local job-training program.

"A job would really help me get ahead," said Alexander. "I'm 18, and I'm still living with my mom. I'm on borrowed time, but things have been so rough out there, and there are no guarantees anywhere."

Amid reports of job losses and rising unemployment, Alexander and 21 other area youths received job-training certificates earlier this month from a program of the nonprofit community-resources organization, Connecting Henry, Inc.

"I went through the whole job-training program," he said. "I didn't know how to basically present myself at an interview, and I learned that. I learned how to look a person straight in their eyes."

Connecting Henry's week-long training program was designed to introduce low-income and at-risk youths to the workforce, said Mary Ellen Culver, a co-trainer in the program.

She said young people in the program participated in various real-life workforce scenarios, ranging from formal interviews to drug testing.

"When they came in, they lacked confidence," Culver said. "They were soft spoken, unsure of themselves, and very cautious. They needed to go through real-life experiences, and what the expectations [for them] were."

Culver said Connecting Henry's job-training program was created this summer to prepare its participants for the federally funded Summer Jobs PLUS Program for Youth.

Summer Jobs PLUS, funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, is an 8- to 10-week program geared toward stimulating the economy and developing work skills among low-income youth, said Mary Margaret Garrett, workforce development chief for the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC).

Garrett said $3 million in federal stimulus funding has been directed to the seven-county ARC, which coordinated with area organizations to help place low-income youths in summer jobs. The organizations serving Henry, Clayton and Fayette counties include nonprofits Hearts to Nourish Hope, Prevention Plus, and WORKTEC.

Funding left over from the organizations would have been used to support youths who successfully completed Connecting Henry's job-training program, according to Garrett.

However, Garrett said, demand for the Summer Jobs PLUS program was so great that funding had expired before any left-over funds could reach Connecting Henry.

She said there were 1,636 youths, ages 14 to 24, served by Summer Jobs PLUS within the ARC's jurisdiction, which includes Henry, Clayton and Fayette counties.

"I think that the kids helping at different work sites, they got a different view of the economy itself and hopefully learned something in the process," Garrett said. "I would say 99.9 percent have enjoyed their experience and would love to have the opportunity to do it again."

Garrett said funding for next year will be dependent upon another federal stimulus.

All was lost in Connecting Henry's job-training program, though, according to Culver, the co-trainer.

"When they left the job-training program, those kids were confident and stunning," Culver said. "It was unbelievable. Kids from poor households found out what they needed [in order] to look stunning. They rose to the highest standards, and they would have been exemplary employees."

Connecting Henry Director Denese Rodgers said the organization is considering incorporating the summertime job-training program into its regular curriculum.

Alexander, the McDonough teen who completed the program, said "I'm looking for a career job, but I need a good-paying job - enough to save up and make it on my own."

"I really want to be an electrician," he said. "If it doesn't come through, I'm not going to be one of the ones that stops looking for a job."