DECATUR, Ill. (AP) — Jonathan Sweet wants to be a carpenter, but he knows he needs help if he's going to cut it in that career.

"I tried working odd jobs here and there, but they didn't work out," he said. "I decided to pursue my thought of being a carpenter."

The 19-year-old Futures Unlimited graduate has found an organization he hopes can help him: Job Corps, a program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor that offers free-of-charge education and vocational training to men and women ages 16 to 24.

Sweet attended one of the monthly meetings at Old King's Orchard Community Center to learn more about his options. He had heard of the program's positive results and wanted to learn additional employment skills.

"And a get a job," he said.

Old King's Orchard has been hosting the monthly meetings for more than a year. Megan Meyrick, program organizer for Old King's Orchard, was familiar with Job Corps after trying to help a student get into the program.

"But you had to travel to Bloomington or Springfield to attend an orientation," she said.

Meyrick and the board offered to host local, monthly meetings for potential Job Corps participants. The organization accepted the offer, and each month Job Corps sends an admissions counselor to Decatur to explain the benefits, rules and expectations.

Bea Hall, Old King's Orchard board member and volunteer said Decatur participants already found success.

"One girl got her GED and her CNA (certified nursing assistant) certificate," Hall said. She encouraged others to sign up for Job Corps for the support.

"This is a great alternative if you can't get along in school," Hall said. "If they are having trouble in the community, it gets them out for a fresh start."

Participants ages 16 to 24 have a choice of more than 100 careers. They receive free housing, meals and basic health care as well as a small allowance and training. Eligibility includes low-income participants as well as the proper paperwork such as school transcripts, medical records and birth certificate. Those younger than 18 will need a signed parental consent.

The program has campuses in St. Louis, Chicago, Joilet and Atterbury, Ind. Vocational classes include certified nursing assistant, electrical, cement masonry, office administration and culinary arts. For those who have not graduated from high school, the program provides GED or high school diploma classes before beginning a vocational school. Participants can expect to be in the program for one to two years, depending on the choice of training.

The program also offers lessons in social skills needed going into the workforce. Respect and tolerance of others is taught.

"Our ultimate goal is to place you in a job or help you in the next step in life," said Karlesia Pickett, Job Corps admissions counselor. "Whether it would be going into the military, going to college or job placement."

Rakia Joyner, 42, brought her daughter Khalilah Land to the August meeting at Old King's Orchard.

The Khalilah, 16, wanted to come to the event to get a little closer to her dream of being a social worker. Kahlilah said her sister found success through Job Corps. After returning to Decatur, her sister landed a job with Archer Daniels Midland Co.

"She enjoyed it," their mother said. "She was able to work while she was there getting her diploma too."

Kahlilah plans to get her diploma through Job Corps, then enroll in one of the trade schools that are offered.

"Whatever one will help with social work," she said. "Because I like kids."

"She is a social worker type," Joyner said. "She cares for people."

The drug-free program offers activities such as clubs and membership to organizations. They also have counselors to help with career decisions as well as personal problems. Uniforms are provided and may vary depending on the vocational training. Washers, dryers and detergent are provided.

Old King's Orchard will help the participants before they leave by supplying towels, bedding, schools supplies and toiletries.

"Basically things for a dorm room," Meyrick said. "Lots of students don't have these things."

Meyrick said anyone who is interested can visit the community center to learn more about the program, even if they aren't there to join.

"And anybody can come, not just the person that is wanting to sign up," she said.

Start dates can be a four- to eight-week wait, and Old King's Orchard will help participants properly prepare their paperwork. Meyrick understands the process can be overwhelming.

"We are here to help them every step of the way," she said.

Funding comes from the Illinois Department of Labor and grants. Independent living and advanced training is encouraged throughout the program.

"(Job Corps) can help whether you are looking to get your diploma or GED. Even if you already have it, the vocational training is excellent for programs people typically go out and pay hundreds for. You can get for free," Pickett said. "You get an experience outside of home that a lot of people may not get."

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Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, https://bit.ly/2MFuZ5L

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Information from: Herald & Review, http://www.herald-review.com