Northern NV groups helping put disadvantaged youths on career paths

A student works in the SNJCC's automotive department.

A student works in the SNJCC's automotive department.

RENO, Nev. — In the North Valleys area of Reno, on a campus spread across 46 acres, nearly 500 economically disadvantaged youths are striving to make a better life for themselves.

They’re under cars, inspecting engines; they’re on ladders, hammering nails; they’re in kitchens, poaching eggs. They’re working to — one day — become a part of the Silver State’s workforce.

These future mechanics, carpenters, chefs and more are students at the Sierra Nevada Job Corps Center (SNJCC), one of 127 federally-funded Job Corps campuses dotted across the United States. Specifically, the program provides housing, education and training to economically-disadvantaged youths aged 16 to 24.

Since it opened in 1979, SNJCC has produced 15,000 academic and or vocational completions and more than 5,000 high school diplomas, said Mark Huntley, business and community liaison at SNJCC. On average, 65 percent of the students arrive from Southern Nevada and 35 percent are from Northern Nevada.

“They’re vital,” Huntley said of job training programs for marginalized youths. “These are kids who dropped out of school and can’t find work because they’re not trained and are below the poverty line.

“What are they going to end up doing? You’ve got drugs, you’ve got crime, you’ve got prison.”

Huntley said the average federal cost per student at SNJCC is around $31,000. Meanwhile, as of 2015, the average federal cost per prison inmate was nearly $32,000, according to the federal register.

“Now, which one would you prefer?” Huntley asked. “Wouldn’t you rather have a taxpaying citizen who follows the law, has a car, has an apartment, buys stuff for the rest of their life?”


In an effort to foster employable youths, the center offers 15 trades in three clusters — medical, hospitality and construction — along with the most current hands-on training as well as certifications needed for each student to begin a career.

In terms of success rate, Huntley said about 75 percent complete the vocation, and nine out of 10 “completers” obtain a job within three to four months.

However, with the rapid economic growth in Northern Nevada these days, SNJCC graduates are finding work even faster, especially in the skilled trades, Huntley noted.

“Here, right now (in Northern Nevada), they get a job immediately,” he continued. “They try to poach them before they’re done. That’s how bad the situation is in Nevada, how desperately they need people.”

In fact, SNJCC’s Work-Based Learning Internship program helps pair local businesses with students to provide them real-life experiences and businesses with the help they need. Moreover, SNJCC students donated more than 11,000 hours last year, helping build homes for Habitat for Humanity, and remodeling the Boys and Girls Club and the Reno Chamber of Commerce, among others.

In all, SNJCC gives its students the opportunity to leave the program with a high school diploma or HiSET, a driver’s license (if they don’t already have one), a bank account with money in it, and a trade they can practice.

“For the economy, especially in Nevada, every student who can do a vocation or trade … it’s a shot in the arm,” Huntley said. “I just think we need more (Job Corps) — there ought to a be a thousand in this country, not 127.”


Another agency helping put displaced or disadvantaged youths on a career path is the Nevada Youth Empowerment Project (NYEP), a housing-based organization in Reno.

Founded in 2007, NYEP was initially started in response to the gap in resources for young women who were aging out of foster care, said Jeanine Moreland, housing programs manager at NYEP. The community-funded organization also takes in young women, aged 18 to 24, who are parentless, homeless and unprepared.

Since, NYEP has helped more than 100 young women gain the knowledge and skills to land a job — ones that they can sustain on. Certification programs available range from the medical field to computer technology to skilled trades. The majority of NYEP’s residents are from the Reno-Sparks area.

“These girls are coming from a cycle of poverty and abuse,” Moreland said. “Being in a program like this can literally stop that in their lives and actually make them successful, contributing members of society.”


After all, each year approximately 350 Northern Nevada teens are exiting publicly funded institutions or systems of care. What’s more, there are an additional 90 homeless young adults on the streets of Reno in 2018, counted by the NYEP-organized Homeless Youth Point in Time Count.

“Programs like this prevent people from experiencing long-term homelessness and placing a taxpayer burden on the community,” Moreland said.

All told, a non-contributing youth imposes a taxpayer burden of nearly $14,000 per year, according to the Economic Value of Opportunity Youth. Once they reach 25, they impose a future lifetime taxpayer burden of more than $170,000.

“Our failure to harness the potential of opportunity youth (out of school and out of work youth) are missed opportunities for us,” NYEP Executive Director Monica DuPea wrote in an email to NNBW. “These youth represent not only an economic opportunity, but also a social one.”


An important component of NYEP’s programming is its civic engagement through volunteerism, both individually and as groups.

NYEP partners with local organizations such as the SPCA shelter and thrift store, the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum, and Daybreak Adult Day Center, to name a few, which give the residents a regular schedule, job description and direct supervision — in other words, a full taste of being in the Northern Nevada workforce.

“They also provide feedback on the volunteer’s performance on a regular basis so we can address any issues they may be having,” Moreland said. “Through this program, we are able to identify areas where a youth might need some skill building or guidance. From there we can coach them to help them become more employable.

“Individual volunteer opportunities generally lead to letters of reference for the volunteer and occasionally lead to paid jobs.”

DuPea said NYEP has a 60 percent success rate in terms of residents staying until they finish high school, earn a living wage certificate, land a job, save $2,000, and move out of NYEP into affordable housing.

Moreland feels the more housing-based programs available to marginalized youths, the higher the success rate will be.

“If you don’t have a place to take a shower or safe place to lay your head at night or know when you’re next meal is coming, you’re not going to be able to get to school or work everyday,” she said. “And that’s why we do this.”


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