LaGRANGE — A community-based organization is set to begin a new educational program Aug. 15 to help people who never graduated high school.
New Ventures, 306 Fort Drive, will begin offering GED training classes to people ages 16 to 60 who want to earn their education while working.
“When we started out, there was a federal mandate that had us focusing about 75 percent on people who were in school,” said Mike Merideth, program coordinator of Youth Ventures, a New Ventures program for young people. “Now, that’s flipped. There’s more of a focus on working with people who are out of school.”
Offering GED programs isn’t the only thing New Ventures does, though. About 120 youths ages 15 to 18 are also enrolled in the Youth Ventures job and education training program. During the year-round program, students learn work force development skills and academics, are mentored and eventually may be placed into a job with an employer that partners with Youth Ventures.
Merideth said he not only understands the program because he helps run it – he was also a student in it years ago.
“They had all the football players from LaGrange High and they gave us chainsaws and axes, and we were to clear out the land for companies that were thinking about coming here, so they could get a better look at the contour of the ground,” Merideth said. “We got paid minimum wage – $2.35 – this was about 1977 or ‘78. We brought our own lunch, and then we went to football practice after we got off work. We were young and strong, and we didn’t really think much about it. I never thought I’d be the administer of this program back then.”
In a county where 22 percent of the total population and 33 percent of children live in poverty, according to U.S. Census data, job training is a valuable skill, Merideth said. It’s not something people are born with, either, Merideth said; it’s learned.
As part of the Youth Ventures program, participants learn how to dress properly for work, write a resume, interview with potential employers and other job skills. There’s also math and reading training for those who need it.
“Basically, a kid comes in and we see if they are eligible,” Merideth said. “We do an assessment to find out where they’re at. We try to meet them at their needs. If it’s math or reading, or mentoring, then we meet them there. Of course everybody is eligible for job readiness and work experience, but there’s a nine-month training leading up to that. We’re not just going to put anybody on the job without them demonstrating they have the basic skills they’ll need out there.”
To learn those basic skills, the Youth Ventures program is modeled after real-life work experiences, said Simone Kelly, a job readiness instructor.
“If you’re talking to your neighbor during the middle of a meeting, or you can’t come back from lunch on time, how many times and is an employer really going to accept that?” she said. “So why should they be doing it in training, either?”
For more information about New Ventures or Youth Ventures, visit www.newventures.org or call 706-882-7723.
Tyler H. Jones is a reporter at LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.