Ben Phillips and Dwight Johnson, two administrators within the Idaho Department of Labor (IDL), told IdahoReporter.com Friday that they believe their program, the Idaho Youth Corps (IYC), can be a force for good in the state. The two men said that the work and the experiences provided by the programs have helped young adults build character and transform their lives.
The program, which began as a pilot program two years ago, ballooned in size in 2009 thanks to $2.2 million in stimulus funding. In 2009, IYC put 850 teens and young adults to work.
IYC focuses on at-risk or disadvantaged young people who face certain “employment barriers” which prevent them from otherwise obtaining work. Most participants work for minimum wage performing manual labor, though some worked at the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls and others worked with non-profit child care providers to gain real-life work experience. The department reports that more than 250 different work sites benefited from the labor of the workers. Phillips said IYC's workload has typically consisted of community- and environment-based improvement projects and Johnson noted that work performed by students is ultimately non-essential to participating organizations, and that young employees of the program do not displace any other employees in either the public or private sector.
So what is the outlook for summer 2010? The department has not received any federal dollars to fund IYC. Johnson said that IDL will continue the program, though on a much smaller basis. IYC is looking to hire approximately 150 teen and young adults for the upcoming summer and will likely spend between $100,000 and $200,000 on workers. Phillips said that money will come from sources within the department.
Though some taxpayers and government officials are focused on cutting government programs and spending, Johnson and Phillips believe the investment in young lives is worth the cost. Phillips said that the program allows those with employment barriers to add much needed work experience to their resumes, as well as develop teamwork and other skill sets. Johnson said that the young people who have come into the program have experienced transformations and earned some self-respect while earning a paycheck. Phillips said that the investment in workers could lead to greater things for them in the future, which would also mean a reduced impact on government-funded social services more often used by unskilled workers.
"We're helping to transform kids into a state of not working into actually having something that can be included on a resume and can springboard their working career," said Phillips.
Additionally, IYC helps some young adults prepare for real life and the expectations of employment.
"It's understanding that you are expected to show up at work and perform a duty in exchange for pay," said Phillips. "A lot of kids don't understand that concept."
Phillips and Johnson are joined in their assessment of the program by some influential men within state government. Gov. Butch Otter, in a handout provided by the department praised IYC. "I've seen lives turned around. They've got new value in themselves, and the community has value in them, and they are valuable to the community," said Otter.
Roger Madsen, director of IDL, said of those involved in the program, "Their stories are inspiring. Some of these kids were running out of chances."
State Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, whose son participated in IYC as a group leader in 2009, said that he saw "an amazing turning point" take placesin the lives of the young people involved. Thanks to Hagedorn, the department may be able to find alternative funding sources for IYC. During the 2010 legislative session, Hagedorn sponsored a bill to allow the department to legally accept private donations for the program to continue its operation. The program made it through the House easily, but did undergo some minor tweaks to prevent young employees from trying to claim certain benefits afforded to traditional state employees.