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Aug 2, 2010 6:03 AM by Sharlee Barriere

St. Martinville Nonprofit Focuses on Young Men

ST. MARTINVILLE, La. (AP) - To resuscitate the economic
well-being of this city, the SMILE Community Action Center is
trying to open avenues to education, housing and employment.
Nakeisha Pierce, who has worked with SMILE since January, said
the center recently launched two new initiatives the Family
Mentoring Program and the Adult Male Program.
Pierce said the Adult Male Program is for men between ages 16
and 24 and is focused on "getting young men off the sofa and get
them working."
Pierce said she and her co-workers accomplish the center's goal
by making relationships with local businesses, checking the want
ads weekly and finding jobs to fit the skills of their clients.
Since the program started in January, about 30 jobs have been
landed for the center's clients, Pierce said.
Adult male coordinator Edie Harrison said many of the young men
who enter the program have the odds stacked against them.
The majority of the center's clients are high school dropouts,
and while some have criminal backgrounds, she said others do not
have a constant mode of transportation to take them to interviews,
which due to the decreasing availability of jobs in St.
Martinville, are often at businesses located in Broussard or
Lafayette.
"Sometimes they're stuck between a rock and a hard place, so we
offer them everything they need to overcome whatever roadblocks may
be in their way," Harrison said. "We do job searches, help them
get the training they need. We even provide transportation for our
clients to get to interviews."
Pierce said the center's ultimate success story would have to be
Norman Boutte, a St. Martinville native who entered the program in
May. After recovering from a stroke four years ago, Boutte said he
wanted to return to the work force but was unsuccessful.
Frustrated, Boutte said one day he made a phone call and was
referred to SMILE, where he entered the program with the goal of
finding employment.
Within two months, after going on several interviews, Boutte
said an outreach coordinator position became available at the
center, and after submitting his resume, he was hired.
"He (Boutte) got the job," Pierce said. "He was the perfect
candidate and now he's our ultimate success story."
As an outreach coordinator, Boutte said he recruits young men
into the program and does whatever he can to help them find a job.
"It's all about selling yourself," Boutte said. "That's what
we try to teach these young men, even the guys who are ex-cons,
having trouble finding work. Coming out of jail, no one wants to
hire them, but I'm working with one now, and a position may have
come up for him."
Unlike the Adult Male Program, the Family Mentor Program is open
to anyone who desires a basic life education, such as, how to
maintain one's finances, pay bills, get an education, getting hired
and finding affordable housing.
"We want to meet young people and help get them on their
feet," Pierce said. "Our goal is to empower people in the
community toward economic independence through education and human
and social services."
At a recent town hall meeting, St. Martin Parish Community
Action Center Coordinator Paulma Johnson told a crowd of about 50
people that God made humans to work, not wake up, eat and sleep.
"We have to get the younger generations an education or some
kind of training," Johnson said. "My mother had a house filled to
the brim and we always ate. Hard work pays."
"We don't want the community to miss out on this opportunity,"
Pierce said about the two programs, which are set to end in
September.

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