Ouachita County ACTION Community Prepares Young Adults for Workforce•
According to the Opportunity Index data, Ouachita County ranks below its adjacent counties (Union & Columbia) and the state in economic, educational, and community opportunity scores. There is an obvious disconnection between educational achievement and economic opportunity within the Ouachita County community. I chose to focus on our ‘at-risk’ youth, ages 16-24 for the ACTION Community project.
Due to the low literacy levels of adults within the community, which is approximately 25%, I suspected that perhaps a good number of young adults had not been adequately guided towards viable educational or career transitions beyond high school due to the lack of parental knowledge. The ACTION Community project in Ouachita County began with plans to hold 2-full day workshops that would prepare young adults to successfully transition from high school into their chosen pathway and introduce them to the option of using national service as a part of their pathway. After each workshop series, the attendees would be partnered with a community mentor who would assist them with gaining skills, seeking employment, and/or preparing for college.
Our first workshop was held August 9-10 in the Southern Arkansas University Tech Technology Center. Seven young adults ranging from 16-20 in age participated. It was, to say the least, an eye-opener, and a deciding factor that the workshop idea was the way to go in our community with the ACTION Community project, and additional workshops are most needed.
A few of the things we learned:
- This youth group were either never exposed to, or never engaged in any type of educational or career coaching or advising activities
- No one in the group had a working resume, had started a portfolio, or given thought to a personal success track plan
- 90% had not engaged in community service and volunteerism, or given information about national service opportunities
- 100% of the group had no idea what the job or career they had chosen entailed or what the educational requirements were to achieve it
We found that the group lacked encouragement, support, and the financial ability to attain their goals. They were struggling to connect to opportunities on their own. Most importantly, we gained an insight of how poverty drastically affects the attitude of our youth. Our community’s youth must be encouraged, taught, and inspired to reach beyond what they see, think, and feel daily. Our goal continues to be to connect with 100 at-risk youth through the ACTION Community project. Our objective is to prepare our youth and assist them on a pathway to reaching their American Dream.
I look forward to attending the Summit in Washington DC on Sept. 19th, connecting with other community leaders from across the country working hard to increase opportunity for young adults.