CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County had more youth crime in 2008 and 2009 than any other county in West Virginia; a new reintegration program aims to help those juvenile offenders.
In 2009, there were 478 delinquent offenders in Kanawha County, a decrease from the 516 offenders in 2008, according to the most recent report published by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia Division of Probation Services and completed by the Division of Court Services.
Only four other counties -- Berkeley, Cabell, Mercer and Wood -- served more than 150 juvenile offenders in the state in 2009.
The EPIC program -- Empowering, Positive, Integrated, Communities -- aims to "improve the employability and decrease the recidivism of juvenile offenders by providing skills, training and service-learning opportunities," according to the state Human Resource Development Foundation, which applied for the grant.
The program is funded by a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, through the Reintegration of Ex-Offenders Training and Service Learning Grants.
The Reintegration of Ex-Offenders is designed to strengthen urban communities through an employment-centered program that incorporates mentoring, job training and other transitional services, according to the Department of Labor.
Stephanie Ahart, regional manager for the state Human Resource Development Foundation, said participants would be able to earn a wide range of certifications, get a GED and attend college classes and vocational training programs for free.
The EPIC program is affiliated with unions, making apprenticeship programs available, she said.
Unique partnerships -- including one with Kanawha Valley Community and Technical College, which will train heavy equipment operators -- are part of the program too.
Not only will the program teach skills development in "in-demand" fields, students will also do community service activities, Ahart said.
The commitment of 32 hours a week will get students used to working full time. They will fill out time sheets weekly to "treat this as a job," she said. Students can even earn minimum wage.
"We will pay everything," Ahart said. "It's a unique opportunity and we are excited to offer this to as many youth as we can recruit."
Ahart said through the state Division of Juvenile Services, there are at least 190 youths in Kanawha County who are eligible for the program, but she expects that number to be much higher.