Last August Marissa Riddall and her two daughters, now age 6 and 1, were homeless. They were living in a tent when Marissa was referred to the Connect 2 Careers program run by Educational Service District (ESD) 112. Through Connect 2 Careers, she was placed in four weeks of paid Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) training, then into a 10 week paid internship. Now, less than a year later, Marissa is working full-time, has her own home and is able to provide for her children.

“Connect 2 Careers is life-changing. It’s a tremendous gift,” said Marissa. “I can’t really think of what it hasn’t done for me.”

Marissa is just one of the success stories from this grant-funded program. In this fiscal year alone (since July 1, 2016) the program has served 163 at risk youth, age 16 to 24; 80% of which didn’t graduate high school or have a GED. Sixty percent of the participants have gained employment as a result of the program and 15% have entered post-secondary education.

Connect 2 Careers is an innovative youth development program in Clark and Cowlitz counties for individuals that are 16–24 years old who have either dropped out of high school or are income eligible with a basic skills deficiency. The program helps them graduate from high school, earn their GED, and/or move on to college or trade school. They get job counseling, gain work readiness skills and paid work experience.

The program is continually enrolling and has about 60 open spots right now. Depending on their interests and strengths, participants may be placed in the CNA, childcare or trades training.

Roadmaster, one of the local companies helping to train the youth, has been working with Connect 2 Careers for a couple of years. Of the 10 youth that have gone through their trades training, four have been hired on permanently and three of those are still there.

“We mentor them and give them the opportunity to develop marketable skills,” said Rod Flint, RSS Production Manager at Roadmaster. “It’s worked out well for Roadmaster and has been a good way to give someone a chance.”