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Vocational program prepares to expand

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Larry Licato instructs Isabella Eason and Isaiah Sargent on repairing a air conditioning unit at Youth71 Five's VoTech shop in Medford.
Medford City Council approves funds for 71Five VoTech to acquire land for another building

Before becoming the inspiration for one of the world’s major religions, Jesus was trained by Joseph as a carpenter. He also seemed to have a knack for forming relationships.

71Five VoTech, a vocational program under the auspices of Youth 71Five Ministries in Medford, similarly tries to help young people learn a trade and successfully find work in a trade and in building relationships.

As a means toward helping grow this effort, Medford City Council recently approved a Community Development Block Grant funding agreement with Youth 71Five for purchase of a 0.62-acre site at 116 Almond St., which is located a short walking distance from its existing training center.

Of the $279,500 grant, $270,000 is for purchase of the land and the remaining $9,500 is for an environmental review of the site required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The 40-by-100-feet-long structure to be constructed on the site will provide four shop bays, a classroom and office space. Next to the building will be a fenced work space for construction projects and off-street parking.

The real estate transaction should be completed sometime next month.

VoTech provides mentoring and vocational training for young people age 16 to 24. That includes training in construction, aviation, automotive and a variety of other industries.

There is a pre-apprenticeship program, more specific vocational training and placement assistance once students reach the point of being considered “apprenticeship ready.”

The program also strives to address what it calls “relational poverty” that participants might face, said Bud Amundsen, executive director of Youth 71Five Ministries.

Amundsen said that “relational poverty” refers to when someone lacks a support system. They’ve grown up without people in their lives to teach them how to do a variety of things, including how to conduct themselves as they search for work.

Without knowledge that will assist them in securing employment, many young people who successfully complete vocational training could end up not being able to pursue job openings.

“They couldn’t make that step,” Amundsen said. “They’d have no idea how to handle themselves.”

The program also has a case manager to help young people in the program acquire soft skills necessary to do well in the workplace — and in life.

“We teach them to build a birdhouse, but we’re also teaching them to use a saw, a tape measure,” said Larry Licato, VoTech coordinator. “They’re learning to use the equipment.”

Licato further explained that vocational skills can also be useful at home, to help family and friends as well as employers, and be widely applied to solve myriad problems.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Larry Licato talks about an electric vehicle the students built at Youth71 Five's VoTech shop in Medford.

A group of youths in the program spent one morning last week learning about how small air conditioners operate.

“Before I came here, I didn’t see a future for myself,” said 18-year-old Isaiah Sargeant. “They helped me find it.”

Sargeant said he had been homeless for a “big, long while” before moving in with his grandparents. After some time spent living with his girlfriend, he made his way to the VoTech dorm, which provides housing for seven homeless students in the program.

Sargeant’s grandfather got him interested in automobiles. He had also considered focusing on construction, but the program allowed him to “figure out what I really, really want to do,” he said.

Isabella Eason, 15, is set on becoming a welder. Licato said Eason is “far beyond her age in maturity” — a big reason why she was allowed to enter the program early.

She attends the Medford Online Academy, which doesn’t offer welding, and she wants to continue her training at Rogue Community College once she completes her skills-building with VoTech.

Eason’s first hands-on experience with welding was when she was 10 or 11 years old. A friend of her brother let her try it.

“I immediately fell in love with it,” she said. “It’s very clear that it’s what I was meant to do.”

VoTech’s acquisition of the new building would provide much-needed additional space for the program as well as the ability to expand the program’s offerings.

A city staff report about the grant written for the City Council described why council members could support it. Helping VoTech expand will provide “more opportunities for the community’s younger generation to become self-sustaining through nontraditional higher education and workforce readiness.”

It would also “strengthen relationships with technical education providers and opportunities to grow the construction workforce,” the report stated.

Assisting with the land purchase helps fulfill some of the goals identified in the city’s 2020-2024 Consolidation Plan, which is used to decide whether an endeavor should receive CDBG funds.

Goal 3 of that plan declares the city will support certain residents — including those of low to moderate income and special needs — “to become self-sustaining by increasing the availability and accessibility of essential support services.”

And Goal 5 is to “pursue community and economic development efforts that support or improve housing development, economic mobility, small business ownership, economic stability and the community’s economic vitality.”

A rental home on the property will remain occupied, and the organization will be the landlord, the report noted.

Amundsen said the program is looking for additional volunteers and instructors. For details about volunteering, instructing or enrolling as a student in this free program — and to find out about the rest of the program’s offerings — see www.71five.org/.

Reach reporter Terri Harber at tharber@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4468.