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Workforce Development Program Gives Dropouts A Second Chance


     Federal funds are flowing into a workforce development program for high school dropouts in western Massachusetts.   

    The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded a $1.1 million grant to the YWCA of Western Massachusetts and its YouthBuild program. 

    Congressman Richard Neal this week announced the funding.

   " The YWCA is a grand brand and they take their responsibility very seriously because they have a decades-old reputation," said Neal.

    YouthBuild is a national program that provides academic and vocational education for at-risk adults ages 17-24.

     " It is important because there are people who perhaps in their youth made bad decisions, or were the victims of others' bad decisions and it gives people a chance to do a reset in life and find a path forward," said Neal.

     With the additional federal funding, the YWCA will be able to double to 63 the number of participants in the program, according to Jenniefer Murphy, the Director of Workforce Development at the YWCA.

     "The pathway and opportunity for young people to obtain stability and economic self-sufficiency is here through the YouthBuild program," said Murphy.

     The program participants take classes in English, history, math, and science in a curriculum geared toward helping them pass the High School Equivalency Test (HiSET).  Graduates of the vocational training in the building trades get a certificate that is a construction industry recognized credential.  Students in health worker training have a choice of pursuing certificates in several fields including nursing assistant, home health aide, and paramedic.

    The training courses require a 6-9 month commitment, according to Murphy.

   "It is open enrollment so folks can contact us here at the YWCA," explained Murphy. "Young people who are interested can come by any time of the year and we'll get the application process going."

    Students currently receiving training in the construction trades will help to build a home in Springfield that is a Habitat for Humanity project.

           Baystate Health offers Youthbuild participants opportunities for job shadowing and paid internships.

       Thalysha Besaw, a single mother, said her goal in the YouthBuild program is to become a role model for her 4-year-old daughter.  After completing the health worker training she plans to work and continue studying to become a nurse.

      " They never gave up on me"  said Besaw.  " It is a really good opportunity. They're like family here."

      The Springfield-based YouthBuild program started in 2003.  Since then, 80 percent of the program’s graduates have obtained employment or gone on to advanced training programs, according to data provided by the YWCA.  Five percent of YouthBuild students had new run-ins with the law.



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