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COUCH'S CORNER: Effort to provide jobs skills training for homeless begins operations

With the challenges that we are facing, new solutions need to be looked at, solutions that are outside the box sometimes, or that require us to get out of our silos and look at how we might work together. So I was happy to hear that Recycling Lives, an effort to provide job skills training for the homeless and disadvantaged, had opened its doors and begun operations recently.

Recycling Lives is the name being given to a Kern Alliance for Business venture. KAB is the not-for-profit arm of Kern County. It inherited a glass recycling machine a couple of years ago and has turned that machine into a job skills training program for the homeless and disadvantaged of Kern County.

Working closely with the Bakersfield Adult School, KAB has created a training program that provides forklift and skid steer training, “soft” job skills development like learning to come to work on time every day, and recycling and recycling equipment training. Through the county agency Employer Training Resource, KAB found funds to locate and operate this equipment, and to pay the trainees for their work. With this training, these workers can then take their resumes, with these equipment certifications and successful work experience, and find permanent jobs in the local economy.

The glass recycling machine takes glass bottles and pulverizes them into a small gravel or sand. This finished product can be used in landscaping and other applications. With the equipment up and running, additional job skills training can now occur in the marketing of this glass and in business development and office skills. Eventually, even landscaping positions could result, along with collection programs to bring glass to the facility. And glass, the hardest of all containers to recycle, can finally have a local market.

In my opinion, job skills training is a preferred option to expensive programs that we have in place to help our disadvantaged populations, whether they are homeless, mentally ill, recently released from incarceration or on welfare. We spend a lot of money on these programs, and don’t always get a great return on our investment.

We need to help people who need help, but by training them to work we give them the skills to succeed on their own, which reduces the burden on government and the taxpayer while giving the worker a sense of self-worth. That’s why I’m so excited about this program, small as it may be at this time, because it moves us in the right direction.

District 4 staff has been involved in the Recycling Lives program, just like we have been involved in developing paid employment opportunities for the homeless cleaning up our community. In addition to these programs, we are always searching for additional opportunities. Currently, we are teaming up with our Public Health Department and other county departments and a local not-for-profit, Laborers of the Harvest, to expand the Waste Hunger Not Food  program, so that our rural areas can recover food to feed the hungry in their communities rather than have it thrown away.

This recovery and delivery of food to the hungry can be done once again by employing the disadvantaged in our communities. Oftentimes, the infrastructure for these types of programs exist in the Bakersfield metropolitan area but not necessarily in the rural areas. I believe through this collaborative effort with local not-for-profits like LOTH and county departments, we can extend it to the District 4 rural areas while we put our homeless and disadvantaged into paid job skills programs. And because a new state mandate called SB 1383 will require this type of food recovery, communities should be especially interested in finding the grants and programs like these that can help them meet these mandates.

These types of partnerships with not-for-profits like Recycling Lives and LOTH are critical to the community, because sometimes not-for-profits can do things not specifically within the purview of the county. Because they are not-for-profits, though, funding doesn’t come from your local general fund tax dollars but more often from grants or donations.

If you or your organization want to help with these local job skills training programs, your donation for this type of program will be like the old adage, “Give a person a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach them to fish, and you’ve fed them for a lifetime.”

If you have questions about this or any other District 4 program, don’t hesitate to call at 661-868-3680 or email us at district4@kerncounty.com. Have a safe week.

David Couch represents Kern County’s 4th District.