A Tampa-based non-profit serving troubled youth since 1969 is one of only four agencies nationwide to receive $5 million in grant money from the U.S. Department of Labor to provide job training for youth who have either committed crimes or faltered in the public school system.
AMI Kids will use the funds in Hillsborough County to provide job training to some 250 children, preparing them for the work force, said Sherri Ulleg, communications director for the agency. The remainder of the money will be used in its programs throughout the nation.
AMI Kids has day programs in Tampa and in Pinellas County and a residential program in Wimauma. It also has substance abuse programs in Melbourne and in the Everglades, which serve local youth.
“We are certainly excited to put that money to use,” Ulleg said. “The communities we serve will really benefit.”
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez announced $74 million in grant awards during a conference call from Washington, D.C. Thursday afternoon. Of that, $44 million goes to the Face Forward program, which combines promising work force and juvenile justice strategies to help young participants improve their chances of success once they move into a job. Another $30 million is going to Training To Work, an adult re-entry initiative to help men and women in state-run work release programs to gain job skills and certifications to help them succeed.
Perez specifically called out AMI Kids during the conference call. “They do remarkable work in the juvenile justice area,” he said.
Previously, he said, incarcerated adults faced multiple barriers, as do young people in the juvenile justice system. He said the work initiatives funded through the grants will help reduce crime, strengthen the economy and empower the nation’s work force. He said the initiatives will also help those locked in a cycle of incarceration and hopelessness to break free. “We are hoping people who have made the wrong choices can get back on the right track.”
“If a person can’t secure a job when they are released from prison, it increases the chances they will return to prison,” Perez said. He said the grant program is part of President Barack Obama’s public safety initiative. Programs like this, Perez said, keep ex-offenders from committing more crimes.
An estimated 44 percent of all incarcerated adults will re-offend,” Perez said. “With participants in our programs, that number is reduced to 13 percent. The impact is real and measurable.”
Ulleg said programs within the AMI structure will submit proposals and bid on a portion of the $5 million in grant money.
“We are looking to help kids get industry-recognized certifications so that when they leave us and go into the work place, they have some highly sought-after skills,” Ulleg said.
Some of the children in AMI Kids programs are placed in residential programs mandated by the judicial system, she said. Others come from school systems, after they have faltered in public schools.
“Whether it’s in the culinary arts, Microsoft Office certification or other programs, when our kids enter the work force, they are well-prepared,” Ulleg said. “We work with the kids academically and behaviorally to help them turn their behavior around, whether it led to criminal activity” or getting them kicked out of school.