For people between the ages of 16 and 21 years old who are out of school and living in Northern Berkshire, there's new hope and new help available to get them back on track.
BerkshireWorks Career Center and Project Reconnect have partnered through a federal grant program to be able to provide a number of support services for free to struggling young people, from GED assessment and preparation to paid work experiences.
The program has the capacity to help 31 youths in need between now and June 2014.
"This is something new to us and important since we had to close our North County [BerkshireWorks] center in 2011," said Melanie Gelaznik, manager of program operations at BerkshireWorks.
She is coordinating the new effort with Bryan House, program manager of Project Reconnect, which has been working to expand services to the northern Berkshire area.
"The stories we hear [from young people] are getting more bleak," said House.
"We're seeing a lot of young people who have homelessness issues and tenuous housing, who lack access to nutrition and food, school dropouts, who have their own set of risk factors, and young people who are unemployed or underemployed. They're coming out of tough home situations too," he said.
House said the new collaborative also includes transportation and meeting space services provided by Berkshire Community Action Council.
"Like my agency's name indicates, we hope to reconnect a lot of those disconnected youth," said House.
North County students who are low-income, are out of school and face an additional barrier such as homelessness, a learning disability or other similar kind of struggle are eligible to apply for the program.
House said the ideal candidate is someone who is "ready to commit, ready to work and ready to succeed." He also said the program is flexible.
In addition to test help, transportation and job search assistance, students can also attend life skills and employment workshops, and earn financial support for items such as work clothes, transportation, and get help finding stable housing.
BerkshireWorks Director John Barrett III said in addition to state and federal funding, long-term success for the program also depends on the investment of interest, time and patience from the private sector.
"We need those who are really willing to take in a disadvantaged youth and show them what they do," he said. Barrett said overall, struggling teens and young adults need more exposure to positive possibilities, be it a business tour or trip to a performing arts center.
"When they get this kind of exposure they can see life ain't that bad," he said.