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Pathways to Careers puts participants on right track

St. Jude’s Ranch is in the opening stages of its “Pathways to Careers” program, an experience that helps Boulder City and Laughlin residents aged 17 to 21 gain insight and education into the professional world.

Thanks to a $400,000 state grant, St. Jude’s employees have spent the past six months creating a program that offers those from low-income families a chance to broaden their professional horizons.

City Councilwoman Peggy Leavitt serves on the Workforce Connections board and was instrumental in obtaining the grant. Since Boulder City is a smaller community, she said, it tends to get overlooked by the bigger cities in Southern Nevada.

And since Boulder City had no previous contracts through Workforce Connections, getting the funding was difficult, she said.

“Getting this moving has been a process because it was really starting from scratch. Having the St. Jude’s campus here helped make this a good fit,” she said.

According to Myesha Wilson, executive director at the ranch, St. Jude’s is hoping to find about 100 participants from Boulder City and Laughlin for the program. Applicants do not have to be residents of the ranch, but they must live in the two towns.

All applicants must take an assessment test to determine their levels of reading, writing and math. From there, each applicant will have a sit down with a career specialist to find out what they want to accomplish during the program. Each experience is individualized so participants get a more one-on-one experience.

“We want to find out what they want,” Wilson said. “Is their goal just to get a job? Or do they want to continue going to school?”

St. Jude’s is in the process of getting Boulder City businesses to jump on board, but job opportunities are not limited to only Boulder City and Laughlin. Once an applicant finds a job that’s suitable, St. Jude’s will pay the employer for their services. Applicants are not paid, but Wilson said they will be given gift cards and other prizes for meeting certain criteria.

“We have built-in incentives to keep them wanting to come back,” she said.

The goal, she said, is for the employers to bring on the participants permanently.

“A part of this grant is for training, so if they’re learning a skill set, that’s going to benefit them when they work anywhere,” Leavitt said.

Wilson said St. Jude’s will cover any expenses needed for the job, including bus passes, work clothes, and day care services. Career specialists at the ranch will also help participants improve their interviewing skills, teach them to write resumes and cover letters, and conduct mock interviews to help them polish their skills.

“We just don’t want them to get a job, we want to set them up for a career,” Wilson said.

Since her three years on the board, Leavitt said she has seen participants of similar programs work at restaurants, office jobs, beauty schools, and even solar companies.

Each work experience is expected to last a couple of months, but participants must check in with a case manager at St. Jude’s up to one year upon completing their jobs as part of the agreement.

For those interested in pursuing higher education, Wilson said they plan on holding college tours in California and Nevada in the spring. St. Jude’s will pay for a charter bus, lodging, and all of the other expenses accrued from the trip.

She’s hopeful that getting them to see the colleges will give them an extra incentive to want to take the next step.

“Sometimes they just see it on TV and they don’t really know what a college campus looks like,” she said. “This will help them open their eyes and say, ‘Wow. This is something I want to do.’ “

Since the program is geared toward people from lower-income families, or those in danger of failing high school, getting to see a college campus can make all the difference in the world, according to Leavitt.

“We want to give them a vision of what can be possible. Most of the recipients of these programs don’t really picture themselves getting an education,” she said. “I think it has made a huge difference in the lives of some of these kids who maybe didn’t think they had a future at all.”

For more information, visit to www.stjudesranch.org.

Contact reporter Steven Slivka at sslivka@bouldercityreview.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenSlivka.

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