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Opportunity Knocks for Local Youth
Photos and Story by James Hill
by Susan HerefordIn September, the doors will open wide to a youth center on MLK Boulevard in northeast Portland. The new center promises to attack the unemployment among out-of-school Portland area youth and help them toward a better path to career success. The soon-to-be christened Youth Opportunity Center is the result of PCC and its lead partners – workystems, inc., Self Enhancement, Inc. and the Youth Services Consortium – garnering a $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. The grant is part of $223 million in Youth Opportunity grants awarded to Portland and 35 other communities across the country to bring education and job training to up to 44,000 young people between the ages of 14-21.According to Kate Dins, director of PCC’s Dislocated Worker Project and helping to organize the start-up, "We are shooting for serving 1,100 youth during the first year of operation."Dins said much of the federal workforce funding in the past has been focused on employment with little or no resources directed to education and training. "The nice thing about this (grant)," said Dins, "is that it recognizes that the completion of education is a mark of success, not just getting a job, which can really limit, especially if you are working with youth.""It is based on a plan that focuses on four areas," added Dins, "education, employment, leadership and support services."The Youth Opportunity Center will be open to any youth who walk through the door, she said, but there is a focus on young people who live in the enterprise communities of North and Northeast and downtown Portland. PCC Grants Officer JoAnn Davich, who wrote the grant, said the proposal was successful for a variety of reasons, but primarily because of the track record Portland has had in delivering employment and training to people."I believe they looked at the proposal and then looked at the project partners and thought this is the group that could do it," said Davich. In the early ’90s, Oregon, and particularly the Portland metro area, worked with federal agencies to carve out employment and training initiatives in the welfare-to-work arena. The work done by Steps to Success, a joint effort between Mt. Hood and Portland community colleges, the Oregon Employment Division and Adult and Family Services, to move welfare recipients from welfare to family-wage jobs, received national acclaim. In 1996, at the height of the program, 2,219 former welfare recipients moved from public assistance to work in one year. The non-profit federally funded group coordinates the development of a skilled work force in the Portland metro area and Tillamook County. The 10,000-square-foot facility will involve a variety of activities, including counseling, instruction, meetings, workshops, entrepreneurial projects and child care. There will be a career resource center, including help for polishing a resume and job listings, and a computer training lab.McDonald’s Corp. is one of a group of employers keen on the youth center. McDonald’s Landa Carlson wants the center to help transition youth into management trainee positions with McDonald’s. "We’re excited about the opportunity to find qualified applicants in area youth from this program," said Carlson, the educational administrator for the Portland region.Carlson, a member of the worksystems, inc. advisory board, added, "In taking a look at workforce development in the metro area, McDonald’s saw the value of focusing on skill sets in area youth."Other employers actively involved in the project include Wells Fargo Bank, Providence Health Systems, Freightliner Corp. and Marriott.If the "high-fives" from area employers and community agencies are any indication of success, the new center should soon be getting the same from area youth.To learn more about the new project, please call Kate Dins at 788-6209.