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County likely to lose out on state grant program for summer jobs

By Rex Robinson | 6/20/2013, 5:29 p.m.
An opportunity to obtain grant money from the state and initiate a summer jobs program in Will County apparently came ...
LaVonte Hughes is working a summer job at the Foster Park Community Center in Joliet through the Connect2Employement pgroam. (Photo courtesy of Bettye Gavin, the center's director) Photo by Bettye Gavin

An opportunity to obtain grant money from the state and initiate a summer jobs program in Will County apparently came and went and it appears no agency in the county applied for the grant.

The deadline to apply for the grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity was June 13. The department received 134 applications, and is in the process of going through all of them now to decide which will receive grant money for their respective programs, DCEO Grant Manager Tammy Stone said.

Of the various organizations from throughout the state that submitted applications, there were several from Cook County, Stone added. In combing through the list Wednesday morning, however, Stone said she couldn’t find an application from a Will County-based non-profit organization.

However, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t an organization that stretches into Will County from a neighboring county.

“It’s our hope that there was a Will County organization that met the criteria so youth from the county can get jobs this summer,” Pat Fera, manager of Workforce Investment Board of Will County, said. She added that notices of the grant opportunity did go out to organizations in the county.

The grant application was open to non-profit 501-C3 community-based organizations throughout Illinois that had received state grant funds and successfully administered a summer youth program in the past or could demonstrate the capacity to run a summer youth program and were within the boundaries of certain Illinois counties. A large number of counties were included, but Will County was noticeably absent from the list.

“The rules were so strict,” Fera said. “You had to be non-profit, have had received state funds and successfully run a youth program before. All three of those things are hard to come by in a county such as Will. We asked where the criteria came from and we were unable to get an answer.”

The window to apply for the grant was only about 10 days, according to Fera. The grant program was only approved at the end of this last spring legislative session.

“It was a short time frame,” Fera said.

Sandra Jones, communication director for the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said the application window began once the funding was approved by the General Assembly.

“Smaller non-profits without experience running a program were able to combine efforts with larger non-profit groups that had the required experience to apply for the grant,” Jones said. “We welcomed all organizations throughout the state to apply.”

Stone did not know how much money would be available for the program or how many organizations would receive grants.

“It will depend on how much money we have and the quality of the applications,” she said.

Stone added that she expects to know sometime next week which community organizations were selected to receive the grants and how much money will be awarded for the program.

The grant program provides eligible youth ages 14 to 24 with age appropriate job training, life skills, counseling, work-readiness skilling, including job interview training ans supervised work experience.

A notice on the DCEO’s website about the grant included the following statement: “This program presents an opportunity to connect youth to the skills that are needed to enter and advance in the workforce.”

The program specifically targets those who need it most. Eligible participants must be between 14 and 24 and meet at least one of the income requirements, which included everything from being part of the national school lunch program or the the food stamps/SNAP program, be considered at-risk or have a family income that is below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.

The last time Will County received funding to run a summer youth employment program was in 2009 through a federal economic stimulus package.

“That enabled us to get summer jobs for 500 Will County youth,” Fera said.