City Spotlight: Ville Platte
Job training and mentoring are pillars of afterschool in Ville Platte, Louisiana. In the early 2000s, local officials and community stakeholders in Ville Platte recognized the need to make efforts to improve the quality of life for the city’s youth. In particular, city leaders were adamant about changing the lives of at-risk youth by providing them with employment opportunities and mentors. In fall 2003, the city wrote a grant proposal for a youth mentorship program. With initial financial backing from the Rapides Foundation, the Youth Opportunity Unlimited (Y.O.U.) program was born.
Y.O.U.’s mission is to “prepare students to become good citizens and productive, successful employees in the workforce through specialized skills instruction, actual work experience in a mentored environment, career exploration field trips, and weekly training.” Encouraging youth to be civically engaged citizens is the program’s most important objective. Y.O.U is defined by six pillars of characters: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. Weekly trainings are built on the six pillars that include topics that cover workforce skills, business etiquette, social development, character education, money management and decision-making.
More than 30 local businesses participate in the program as mentors and places of employment for young people. These business partners range from daycare providers and barber/beauty shops to insurance agencies and medical centers. Since April 2007, Y.O.U. has received the majority of its funding from the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ), formerly the Office of Youth Development. The Y.O.U. program uses grant funding from OJJ to provide students with stipends. Other key investors who provide in-kind contributions include the Evangeline Parish School Board, the Chamber of Commerce and community-and faith-based organizations.
Since its inception, the program has completed 14 sessions with almost 500 students participating. Of the initial 494 program participants, 440 students graduated from the program—a completion rate of 89 percent. More than half of program participants have gone on to complete high school with a diploma or certificate. Many are still enrolled in high school. The Youth Unlimited Opportunity program has proven to be beneficial for students, local businesses and the community as a whole, contributing to the creation of a new skilled workforce and by bringing together members of the community.