ALEXANDRIA, La. (WNTZ) – The Rapides Foundation has awarded $1.8 million in grants to six organizations under a new program that addresses the high number of Central Louisiana young adults ages 16 to 24 who are neither in school nor working. The Reconnecting Cenla Program Grant seeks to reconnect these young people to meaningful education and employment opportunities in the region.
Grants were awarded to Ben D. Johnson Educational Center, Central Louisiana Technical Community College, Eckerd Youth Alternatives, LaSalle Community Action Association, LaSalle Economic Development District and Rapides Parish Police Jury.
These six entities will serve as anchor organizations that will lead community-based systems of partner organizations to identify, recruit and navigate disconnected youth to education and employment opportunities. Disconnected youth are often called “opportunity youth” because of their potential to succeed and contribute to their communities.
“Research has shown that young adults who experience disconnection have significantly lower incomes, are less likely to gain meaningful employment in the future and have poorer health outcomes than their peers,” said Joe Rosier, President and CEO of The Rapides Foundation. “These community collaborations are designed to create strategies that address barriers these young adults face when reengaging with education and employment services.”
Reconnecting Cenla complements the Foundation’s Beyond Graduation Project, a retention strategy launched in 2021 to ensure students stay within the education pipeline by assigning coaches to counsel students who enter postsecondary institutions after high school. Both programs are funded under the Workforce Skills and Talent Development component of the Foundation’s Economic Development Initiative.
Each Reconnecting Cenla Program grantee was awarded $300,000 over a three-year period that began April 1. The grant also will fund technical assistance from national experts in the field of opportunity youth who will work closely with the organizations as they develop their projects.
The following Reconnecting Cenla Program Grants were awarded:
Ben D. Johnson Educational Center plans to expand its Legacy Workforce Development Program, which provides training and certification courses covering foundational job skills, digital and financial literacy, effective communication strategies and industry-based certifications to underserved populations in Natchitoches. The center will work to grow its network of referral, resource and employer partners to help participants obtain social services, job training and employment.
Central Louisiana Technical Community College will create the Cenla Outreach, Engage and Reconnect Project to establish a range of key stakeholders to grow capacity and effectiveness with engaging opportunity youth throughout Central Louisiana. The project will utilize a Carl Perkins-funded website, Career Waves 6, to highlight resources within the community and create a communication network. The project will grow partnerships with grassroots organizations by training local ambassadors on the features of the website and navigate youth to services.
Eckerd Connects will work with existing and new community partners to build a system of care for opportunity youth in Rapides and Vernon parishes. The Eckerd Connects Opportunity Youth Program will engage, empower and energize opportunity youth to address the barriers to successful education and employment. The project also will focus on building an infrastructure to connect referral sources to community partners who provide educational services and employment opportunities. Eckerd will provide direct services and strengthen local connections in communities to connect more youth to opportunities so that they can live in a sustainable manner.
LaSalle Community Action Association and its partners will create the Catahoula Youth and Young Adult Enrichment Program in Catahoula Parish. The program will identify, recruit, assess, educate and train at least 150 young adults to become economically stable through the creation of a local and regional system of service providers. The system will provide outreach and a portal for disconnected youth to enter, be assessed and connected to services, including training, that will improve the likelihood of a successful transition to sustained employment.
The LaSalle Economic Development District will serve as anchor organization for Reconnect LaSalle: Youth Embracing a Greater Future. The mission is to connect these young adults with local and regional entities that can assist them to embrace a greater future by entering the workforce or obtaining higher education. The project will develop strategies to increase awareness of available local resources and information. Other components include facilitating round table discussions with area agencies, organizations and local youth.
The Rapides Parish Police Jury’s Youth Empowerment Services Project will expand its existing outreach and services for young adults. The project will include hiring service navigators to recruit disconnected youth from Rapides Parish and connect them with resources within the American Job Center and from external partners.