July 12, 2019 10:20:28 AM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
A couple of weeks into its new funding campaign, the J.L. King Center is $25,000 short of the $60,000 it needs to continue operations through the end of the 2020.
Even so, momentum is building, said Alison Buehler, one of the architects of the center's new funding plan.
"It's really kind of cool what's happened," said Buehler, director of the Homestead Education Center which partners with J.L. King Center. "East Mississippi (Community College) has raised enough money to open one program that we're really excited about. So there's definitely some momentum as we go forward."
On Aug. 15, EMCC will welcome the inaugural 15-person class for its new Gateway Program.
"All (the center) is responsible for is the utilities," Buehler said. "EMCC is paying for everything else."
The program is designed to help young people between the ages of 16 and 24 prepare for and acquire above minimum-wage jobs through eight weeks of classes, followed by a job-placement program.
"Each student will be placed with a mentor," Buehler said. "In six months, the goal is that every student who successfully completes the program will have a job that pays ... more than the minimum wage."
Yulanda Haddix, the program director who will teach the classes, said the program is designed to meet the individual needs of each student, regardless of their educational or work background.
"The classes teach the soft skills, but also job skills, too," she said. "If a student needs a GED, we'll set that up. We'll offer WorkKeys training, really anything they might need."
Haddix said once the students successfully complete their classes, they'll be placed in a short-term paid internship of 200 hours with local industries and businesses.
"I'll track the students for 12 months, so if they need help finding a job after the internship ends, I'll be able to continue to help them with job placement," Haddix said.
While that program is getting off the ground, Buehler said the center is working on plans for a revised Youth Development Program.
"That's where the fundraising is so important," Buehler said. "The development program is there to catch all those kids who aren't getting the resources they need. We don't have the money for what we want to do with it yet, but we did have enough to pay for summer camp in June and July."
The program targets kids from elementary school to middle school, she said.
Those two programs, along with the center's Pathways to Prosperity program for adults, are the primary focus of the center under its new private-funding plan.
After losing the grants that had supported the center, supporters are turning to private donors to keep the center in operation.
Currently, the center is open on an abbreviated schedule -- 8 a.m. until 1 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
But even with a scaled-back operation, Buehler sees some positives.
"When the center was grant-funded, we had to do what the grant wanted us to do," Buehler said. "What I like about our new situation is that we can use the money for what we want to do, where the needs really are. For us, that means we can focus on safety/security, which means providing the basic needs like food and shelter, and sustainability, which means how to find a keep a job that provides a living wage and a future."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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