Hands-Off Education?Budget cuts have YWCA scrambling to save On-Job Training 

Budget cuts have YWCA scrambling to save On-Job Training

Each summer, Missoula’s YWCA has worked with On-Job Training (OJT) for local teens. In the past, 150 teens in Missoula, Ravalli and Mineral counties were employed by the summer program. But this year, the funding for the program has been cut and the Y is scrambling to find ways to keep low-income, at-risk kids involved—and employed—through the summer.

One solution to keeping teens busy and giving them a much-needed job skill is a series of four computer repair and maintenance classes planned for July and August.

“We want to help them tear a computer apart, find out what makes it work, trouble-shoot problems and put it back together again,” says Karrie Maier, computer education instructor at the Y. “The class is a completely hands-on thing. Kids can bring their own computers if they have a problem or they can work with one we’ll provide here.”

The need to keep teens busy and productive in the summer is a vital one, says Maggie Yobst, the Y’s vocational services coordinator. She is upset that the annual youth OJT funding was cut this year. “We never have gotten a good explanation of why the program is gone,” Yobst says. “It offered teens a chance to make money, build self-esteem, learn good work ethics. Now we’re trying to come up with replacements.”

The four computer maintenance sessions can be held thanks to the generosity and community spirit of one man, Axel Sorenson, according to both women. Sorenson, who is retired, has become the Y’s computer “guru,” repairing and updating the Y’s computers, fixing donated computers and offering computer classes to clients.

“We see such a difference in people who come here and take computer classes,” Maier says. “Many have never even turned a computer on before. As they learn, they grow in self-confidence and self-worth.”

One woman who took computer classes at the Y wrote to Maier after she had finished, describing the training as a “Course in Miracles.”

“Thanks to the Y for throwing me a rope to use to pull myself back up after some hard times,” she said. “At various times with various people at these classes, it was as if you were guiding me to a life raft and I will always be in debt to you at the Y.”

It is that kind of summer life raft Maier and Yobst hope to offer to teens from middle school through high school. The program is structured not only to help teens who have a computer that has problems but also to teach teens who have never had a computer how one works. The hope is that every girl and boy who attends the classes will have a working computer to take home at the end of the sessions.

The Y is seeking donations of computers and monitors to be used in the classes, Maier says. The need is for IBM-compatible 386 or higher computers and for working Super-VGA monitors. Donations are tax-deductible. Every donated hard drive is “scrubbed” of all existing information before it is used in training or given to someone to ensure that no one’s privacy is compromised, Maier says.

“We want to send these kids home with something that they can do word processing and play games on,” Maier says. “We’ve got a good start, but we could use more.”

Two sessions will be held from July 10 through July 14, with another two set for July 31 through Aug. 4. The morning session will run from 9 a.m. to noon and the afternoon session from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Each session will be limited to 12 students to ensure that each has a computer to work with and that there is plenty of one-on-one instruction from Sorensen and Maier. All four session will be held at the Y, 1130 West Broadway in Missoula. Cost of the class is $25 per student but there are scholarships available for students who cannot afford the fee, Yobst says. Applications for scholarships are available at the Y.

Anyone with any questions or donations is welcome to call Yobst or Maier at 543-6691.

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