G&L Clothing in Cairo has employed two high school students at a time for the last five years and Gabriel Harris, owner of the store, said he is doing it just to help out.
The G&L Employment Program started when the business was located on 9th St. and has always been about helping students find employment after they leave school.
“Once they work here, they will have something to put on their resume,” Harris said. “We all know it is important to have some type of experience when you go out there into the workforce.”
Harris hires two students at a time for periods of six to eight months where they work 12-15 hours a week and make minimum wage.
Deveoney Maborn, a recent graduate from Meridian, is in her second term in the program. Maborn, who intends on studying business at Murray State next year, said the skills she has learned in the last year will help her in her career path. Harris said this is the point. He said the lessons learned working retail will serve them later in life.
“Those experiences are part of who you are, you can never change that,”
Currently, Harris’ program only involves his clothing store and works with Cairo, Meridian and Egyptian high schools. However, in time he hopes to expand it to incorporate G&L Shoe Emporium as well as Century High School.
A federally funded program has been putting young people to work in Cairo.
10 youths, ages 16-24 meet each morning at a house on 12th St. The house, which is speculated to have been built in 1910, is nothing to look at right now but in time students in the Youth Build program will have it shining once again.
In Jan. The Delta Center launched Youth Build, a program aimed at kids between 16-24 who either did not finish high school or who lack certain skills to make them employable. Lisa Tolbert, executive director of the Delta Center in Cairo, said Youth Build is aimed a demographic who may not have many options.
“These are kids that, pretty much, a big part of the community and sometimes even their family have said, ‘Enough is enough,’” Tolbert said.
Youth build is designed to get this group back on their feet in 6-24 months. However, they have to apply first. Once applications have been turned in, those who meet the participation criteria engage in what Tolbert calls the mental toughness program. For two weeks Youth Build candidates do a series of tests to ensure they are mentally prepared to go through the program. Of those who go through mental toughness testing, up to 20 are chosen to participate in Youth Build. Tolbert said of the 42 who applied, 31 went through mental toughness and 20 were selected to participate. She said of that original 20, they currently have 10 who are still participating.
These students can receive help getting GED’s and even driver’s licenses. However, the most important asset the kids get are the skills they learn on the job site. With part of a $750,000 grant from the Department of Labor, The Delta Center has purchased the 12th St. home in Cairo. Under the guidance of experienced foreman James Biggerstaff, the Youth Build students will learn how to renovate and repair the home.
Biggerstaff said it has not always been easy working with his pupils.
“In the beginning almost everything that you tried to do they were combative,” he said. However, he chalked it up to personal insecurities.
“It’s very difficult to get them to believe in themselves,” Biggerstaff said. Though, in the six months since he began working with them, he said he has seen big improvements.
“Through the months, every day, every week I see a change,” he said. Biggerstaff remembers one student who may have left early but certainly left on a high note.
“One young lady was in the program for about a month and she went from a fourth grade reading level to a twelfth grade reading level,” he said. While she may not have graduated from the program, Biggerstaff said he sees this as one of Youth Build’s great success stories.
Alfonzia Swift, 24, of Cairo is currently working towards his GED and said he has seen big changes in himself since starting with the Youth Build program in Jan.
“The program has taught me how to work together in a group, how to be respectful [and] how to start something and finish it,” he said. Swift enjoys working on the house so much he said he hopes to continue with construction after he leaves Youth Build.
Sharonda Burris, 24 of Cairo, said it is not always easy to be motivated everyday to go to work with the Youth Build team.
“There are times when I … don’t want to get up but I have to encourage myself to get up, like, ‘This is to better yourself,’” she said.
Biggerstaff and his students are not the only ones working on the house. In fact, there are several groups involved in Youth Build including the Southern Illinois University School of Architecture, Shawnee Development Council, Shawnee Community College and the first judicial circuit probation office. SIU sends students to help with architectural planning and some of the labor.
Tolbert said once the house is completely renovated, The Delta Center intends to sell the property and start a new construction project for the next wave of students. The Delta Center’s grant is intended to last for three years and Tolbert said the center has plans to reapply at then end of this term. In fact, she said they hope to expand the program to eventually offer not only construction training, but nursing and technology courses as well. By keeping Youth Build around for the long-term, Tolbert and Biggerstaff both hope to help as many kids see their potential as they can.
“The biggest thing is for everyone to understand that you can be anything that you want to be,” Biggerstaff said.
It was an emotional roller coaster for the senior Meridian Bobcats May 18. The players went from the excitement of graduation at 10 that morning, to having their season ended by the mercy rule at the hand of perennial power Shawnee High School by four.
The Shawnee Redskins beat the Bobcats in 5 innings by a score of 10-0.
Redskins senior Adam Pennington threw a 1 hit shutout with the assistance of junior Aiden McMahon.
DJ Weldon had the lone Bobcat hit, a 2 out double down the 3rd base line in the second inning.
Connor Schaal picked up the loss for the Bobcats.
The defensive player of the game was Meridian senior center fielder Wyatt Isom. Isom threw out runners attempting to score on 2 different occasions in the 3rd inning. Senior catcher Jammerio Moore was able to catch the ball and have to presence of mind to know where he was in relation to the runner to make the tag.
Next season will be a rebuilding year for the Bobcats with many key starters graduating. Only 5 underclassmen had significant playing time this season.