Goodwill Industries of Northern New England has been awarded more than $1 million in federal grant money to provide job training and educational opportunities for at-risk youths.

The YouthBuild grants announced Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor will benefit 77 nonprofit organizations in 35 states. More than $80 million will be distributed.

Goodwill Industries, based in Portland, said it will use the funds to provide training to youths ages 16 to 24 in its downtown Lewiston program. Goodwill was the only program in Maine that qualified for the competitive grant money.

Most of the young people served in Lewiston have lost their connections to mainstream society, whether from dropping out of high school, being unemployed or homeless, recovering from drug addiction, growing up in extreme poverty or having been incarcerated.

“All young people are gifted and talented, and it is everyone’s responsibility to help draw out those gifts and talents,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez in a prepared statement. “YouthBuild provides young people with an important opportunity to gain the education and skills they need for good-paying jobs, while also helping them become more engaged members of their communities. That can mean everything to a young person who didn’t get the easiest start in life.”

Perez said the grants will help about 5,000 at-risk youth across the nation complete high school or state equivalency programs, help them earn industry-recognized certifications for certain types of jobs, and help them gain skills they will need to build housing for low-income or homeless people.

The grants announced Thursday ranged from $700,000 to $1.1 million. Goodwill received a total of $1,066,519 – nearly equal to grants received by programs in some of the country’s largest cities, including Los Angeles, Hartford, Miami, Atlanta, Kansas City and Baltimore.

“Some of the young people we work with have faced significant trauma in their lives,” said Sandra Goss, YouthBuild program manager for Goodwill’s Lewiston-based program.

Goss said the funds, which must be used over four years, will benefit 65 to 80 people, who will be taught construction skills by repairing buildings in downtown Lewiston, as well as computer and life skills.

Goodwill Industries received a YouthBuild grant in 2009. Goss said the funds proved effective in helping several youths turn their lives around.

A 16-year-old girl who was in foster care fled her home in Maine and hitchhiked to California, where she became addicted to heroin and was arrested, Goss said. About a year ago, the girl returned to the Lewiston area and got involved with New Beginnings, a program that provides shelter for youths in crisis.

Working in conjunction with Goodwill’s program, the girl got job training that led to her getting hired by Hannaford. She built on that experience to get a job in an L.L. Bean call center.

Goss said another success story involved a young man who grew up in an impoverished household. He had been unable to find a job and did not have a car.

About four years ago, Goodwill placed him in a job with a moving and storage company. The steady income gave him the opportunity to stabilize his life. Last year, the 23-year-old finally got his driver’s license and was able to afford his first car. He is now in training to earn his commercial driver’s license.

“We are thrilled to get a piece of the funding source. It’s a little awe-inspiring to be considered on the same level as some of the larger cities,” Goss said.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

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