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Unique local job training program gives kids skills, confidence

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I spent an interesting couple of hours at Wenatchee’s Community Education Garden on Friday, as students from WestSide High School and SkillSource were doing some heavy lifting to help out the local Master Gardeners.

I was introduced to some talented young people who are thriving in this unique work readiness program, which was funded by grants from the state Superintendent of Public Instruction and Employment Security. 

The program was developed and coordinated by Hana Butler, who is the experiential learning coordinator for the local WSU Extension office. Over six years, Butler has figured out a way to create life-altering work experiences for young people by partnering with businesses and a wide spectrum of organizations, including the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust, the Forest Service, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and others.

Since 2010, the master gardeners have developed a successful demonstration garden at the corner of Western Avenue and Springwater. 

About a dozen students showed up to haul and spread gravel on paths through the five gardens and bark on the beds.

You couldn’t miss the enthusiasm of Anthony Mason, a young man who came to NCW from Sacramento to get away from bad social influences and earn his way into the Army. He’s a vocal leader and someone who livens things up for everyone involved.

These young people are getting fundamental job skills training — showing up for work ready and with the right tools, interacting with  people who might be in a position to hire them, and getting coached in some of the finer details. 

They are also learning how to be good stewards of the land, which is near and dear to the heart of Butler. “I want them to stay here (in NCW) and contribute as citizens in caring for the land,” she told me. Butler is one of The World’s 30 Under 35 young leaders who were recognized last year.

Another important part of the program is that these youngsaters learn to trust and appreciate each other as well as adults. When they took physical training tests that firefighters must pass, they were cheering each other on doing pushups, pull-ups and the like, Butler said.

These are talented young people who are undergoing a life changing experience and create new opportunities for their future.  

Keeping creative job training programs like the one Butler developed is important for our future as a community. By reaching struggling kids with programs in which they gain the skills and confidence to thrive in life, our community benefits over the long term. 

If you’d like to contact Butler, she can be reached at hbutler@wsu.edu. 

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