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Clothing and job preparation program intended to get youth hired

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — LaShonna Alexander, 18, wants to be a doctor. Through the help of The Intersection, an after-school and summer program for at-risk youth, she has taken early steps down that path by getting her first job.

"For some of us who have been here for a long time, (The Intersection) provides us with a place with a hot meal, a job and keeps us off the streets," said Alexander, who received an internship with Head Motors through the Intersection's resources.

"I liked that it gave me a future reference for other jobs," Alexander said. "It helped me learn how to look things up on the computer and communicate better with other people."

She hopes the work experience will also help her at Moberly Area Community College in the fall.

The Intersection is teaming up with The Salvation Army and Central Missouri Community Action to create "Dress for Success," a program that provides underprivileged young people with the clothes and job preparation to apply for work locally.

Through this combination of these three community agencies, their resources can be maximized to meet as many youth and young adults as possible, Salvation Army regional coordinator Maj. K. Kendall Mathews said.

"Our enemy is poverty," The Intersection executive director Dana Battison said.

At their first organizational meeting, the groups decided they will pay for two outfits to be purchased at Columbia thrift stores.

"We all have the entities and services to reach out to people who are struggling to even get a job at McDonald's," Mathews said. "We want to give them the resources that provide them an opportunity."

Mathews added that the Salvation Army teaches spiritual, physical, educational and psychological growth, with particular emphasis on the spiritual.

"The Bible says without a vision, our people will perish," Mathews said. "And I do not want our people to perish."

Until now, the organizations have had separate but similar programs. This summer, CMCA has helped 88 16- to 24-year-old students prepare for interviews, said Meg Rivers, who oversees the CMCA program called Next-Generation Jobs Team, which ends Sept. 30.

"We want to get the interviews in as soon as possible to get them into the working community," Rivers said.

Through Next-Generation Jobs Team, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as stimulus money, CMCA is helping with job skills and clothing to promote a professional appearance.

Rivers said they go with participants to Walmart stores in the area.

"We make sure everything they choose is appropriate," she said.

In the nine-hour training program, CMCA also provides job skills, such as how to work a cash register, basic computer training and how to build a proper resume, Rivers said.

"I think that the problem for most young people is they don't know something like this exists," she said.

Mathews stressed the importance of recognizing what self-improvements one needs to make.

"People who are wanting to be employed must figure out what employment skills they are lacking," he said, reinforcing Rivers' idea of adjusting to the work force.

The Intersection also aids young people in finding jobs or service work in the community, depending on their age, Battison said.

Ashley McWilliams, 13, aspires to be a fashion designer. In a development class, one of the many classes offered over the summer, she was able to design a fashion show, "Wear It Again," held on July 19, at which models wore used clothing.

"It was beautiful," McWilliams said. "I'm more familiar with things like that now so I can continue to do so in the future with more beauty and success."

Battison said that by working in the community, through service, work or both, young people will gain experience and hope.

"Part of the reason our young people lose focus is because they stop believing," she said.

Mathews' idea for the program came after he appeared on KOMU's "Pepper and Friends" for a Salvation Army fashion show similar in concept to the one held by The Intersection. One organizational meeting has been held so far, with more planned.

"This is something that will have a potential impact, even nationally," Mathews said. "Things are coming together quite nicely."


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