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TC Futures steps up to help youth heading into real world

Young adults can complete free, individualized program to earn GED diploma, get help finding a job

The opening of TC Futures in Kennewick has created a home base for young adults looking to earn their GED diploma, get help finding a job or even wash laundry and grab a bite to eat.

The site at 6917 W. Grandridge Blvd., Suite C-110, in Kennewick serves youth considered “disengaged” from school who were previously assisted at a collection of sites, or nowhere in particular, across the Mid-Columbia.

“We were all over the place. My case managers were out in the schools. My Richland case manager would meet students at the Richland library; my Pasco case manager would meet students wherever they could find a spot in Pasco; and Kennewick would meet at Kennewick High,” said Mark Wheaton, TC Futures center director.

In addition to Richland, Pasco and Kennewick, TC Futures serves youth across eight school districts within Educational Service District 123, including Walla Walla, Columbia (Burbank), North Franklin, Kiona-Benton City and Prosser.

Thanks to a partnership with Career Path Services, a nonprofit that falls under the umbrella of the Benton-Franklin Workforce Development Council, TC Futures can help those up to age 24, while the ESD 123 program used to expire during the school year a student turned 21.

“We focus on 16- to 24-year-olds becoming employable, getting employment, internships, paid work experience, pre-apprenticeship—basically overcoming any barriers that would keep a student from being employed,” Wheaton said.

Dmitry Hansen came to TC Futures in July, shortly after the center opened its doors near Vista Field. Once he began visiting regularly, he was able to quickly complete his studies and passed his General Educational Development tests in October, a day before turning 20. The battery of exams designed by the American Council on Education measure high school equivalency.

“They make it so easy, it hurts,” Hansen said.

Hansen, who left high school in his junior year,  said he had previously been forced to leave assistance programs offered by WorkSource Columbia Basin after missing too many appointments. “This makes you finish faster because with appointments you have to wait in between, and things happen, but here you can show up anytime, on your schedule,” he said.

Hansen made use of TC Futures’ free computer lab, studying for the GED exam and working with Career Path Services to land a job with the Northwest Carpenter’s Institute of Washington. The services offered covered the cost of the tools Hansen needed to buy before starting work.

“For tools, that stuff is expensive. When I looked at the tool list, I thought, ‘There was no way I could pay for this,’ ” Hansen said. The newly-hired 20-year-old received the supply list on a Thursday and was required to have all equipment by Tuesday. Career Path Services made sure he had the tools in hand, with a day to spare.

“For the most part, they can cover about 80 percent of the expenses you have, whether it’s putting gas in your car, buying clothes, whatever barrier exists for employment,” Wheaton said.

The cost of Hansen’s tool list alone was nearly $500. “The money I had saved up, I was like, ‘I need this for bills, and for a car and insurance and everything like that; I can’t spare anything for tools,’ ” he said.

Despite a GED certificate in hand and an apprenticeship lined up, Hansen’s time with the program is not over. Career Path Services will check in with him quarterly for a year to help keep his story a success.

“Nationwide, not just in the Tri-Cities, one in every five students don’t make it through traditional high school, for whatever reason. So here we get to provide multiple pathways to success, and it looks different for each student who comes through the door,” Wheaton said.

Since opening its doors in July, most youth come to TC Futures looking for help with passing the GED test, as this tends to be the first education barrier for employment, Wheaton said. The program covers the cost of the testing for the young adults. “You just ask. They print out the code, you put it in, and you’re done. It’s so easy,” Hansen said.

There are two GED case managers on staff at TC Futures. “We use an online platform as well as 1:1 case management. That’s been very effective in identifying what they don’t know. They take a practice test and it designs a learning plan for them based on where they were weak. We have about a 93 percent pass rate for tests; 93 percent of those who take the test pass it, not 93 percent get their GED,” Wheaton said.

Hired to build the program and launch the center, Wheaton said the GED program is “blowing up” since there was never a central location for assistance available before.

TC Futures serves about 115 students, which is triple the amount from a year ago. There is some crossover with Career Path Services, which serves at least 201 youth annually under its model of funding. “Youth centers, or centers like ours, see foot traffic of about 600. I don’t know if we’ll hit that this year, but I expect to see 400 to 500,” Wheaton said.

As a “GED+” program, TC Futures treats the GED diploma as the bare minimum for education. “Even on day one, we’re trying to figure out why a GED is a good option. If it’s just to not get in trouble with the law, that’s OK, but then what are you going to do? My case managers have a fun opportunity to really dream with kids. They get to explore multiple careers,” Wheaton said.

One of the young people served at the site recently went to work in music production at a local church, and another became an apprentice as a tattoo artist. Wheaton said, by and large, students who work with Career Path Services end up getting “called up” faster for construction work due to their ability to score higher on pre-employment testing.

Since education isn’t the only barrier for those in need of assistance, TC Futures keeps a stocked kitchen to feed students free meals and offers a donated washer and dryer as a resource to those who may be homeless.

Additionally, Wheaton said they’re always working to build relationships with mental health services and addiction specialists. The new site offers classroom space where the team hopes to hold programs on résumé building, trauma-informed care, preventing suicide and even art therapy.

“I kind of call us ‘agents of hope’ because a lot of the kids who come through the door are hopeless for one reason or another. Many times they’re partnering with a belief that they’re a failure, or they’re dumb or lazy, or whatever other label they’ve picked up along the way. We get to come in and just provide the opposite and really start fresh. We have a really high success rate with those who actually use the program,” Wheaton said.

TC Futures is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and holds an orientation daily at 1 p.m. Wheaton said at least one new face arrives for the orientation nearly every day. The total time spent in the program, usually preparing for the GED exam, depends on the individual and often centers around how much math education a participant has had. Two hours of effort a month is a minimum for remaining enrolled.

“I usually let students know, if they can give me 40 hours of work over a few months, they’re going to be successful,” Wheaton said.

“If it wasn’t for this program, I literally couldn’t do the carpenters’ union,” Hansen said. “It’s awesome.”

TC Futures: 6917 W. Grandridge Blvd., Suite C-110, Kennewick; 509-537-1710.

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