Stimulus grants to help Moffat County residents get back to work |

Stimulus grants to help Moffat County residents get back to work

Nicole Inglis

The Colorado Workforce Center, Colorado Northwestern Community College and Moffat County joined forces to use recent stimulus money to help residents finish their high school education and get back to work. From left are Colleen Wilkinson, of the Colorado Workforce Center, Tinneal Gerber, Moffat County budget analyst, and George Avgares, director of Colorado Student Care, which will help coordinate tutoring and support for the students.

Since he dropped out of Moffat County High School 12 years ago, Patrick Perkins has worked as a security guard, maintenance technician, at a lumberyard, as a pizza delivery guy and at Twentymile Coal Co.

But, in 2008, Perkins found himself the victim of cutbacks at the mine. He was out of work in a country spiraling into an economic recession.

He had no high school diploma and a wife and two kids at home.

"It was taking me a while to find work because I had no education," said Perkins, 30. "Without a piece of paper saying you have an education, they just won't hire you."

On March 23, Perkins received that piece of paper: a General Equivalency Diploma he earned with the help of a program run through the Colorado Workforce Center, Moffat County and Colorado Northwestern Community College.

Perkins was the first to complete the program and was proud to finish in the 84th percentile in several subject areas.

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A $24,00 stimulus grant received in January will help Perkins and about 20 other county residents further their education and better position themselves in the job market.

Colleen Wilkinson, Workforce Center disability navigator, said about 14 people are anticipated to earn their GEDs by August with the help of Colorado Student Care and CNCC, using resources provided by the grant funds.

Two people are in a nursing certification program and four in a truck-driving program also using the grant finds.

"Right now, because there's so many people out of work, people are running out of unemployment," Wilkinson said. "We want to elevate their education and get people back to work."

She said some community members have gone more than 20 years without needing a high school education.

But, when they find themselves suddenly out of work, they realize the employment landscape has changed.

The goal of the program is to have 80 percent of program participants employed after they complete their education, she said.

She said she's had a lot of interest from people coming into the Workforce Center, but not all of them ended up in the program.

"That's the problem," Wilkinson said. "Not all of them follow through."

Perkins can sympathize: he said he'd been working on his GED for years, but always ended up distracted by a job or other obligations.

The final group of 14 GED students will begin pre-testing as soon as possible, said George Avgares, Colorado Student Care director.

"The more education they have, the less unemployment they'll suffer," Avgares said. "They can make more money and have more opportunity to provide for their families. And, some might want to continue on to further education."

Perkins was one who followed through on his dreams and was drawn to further his education beyond high school.

He said he was accepted to a police academy in Delta, but turned it down so he wouldn't have to move his family. He still said he might be a law enforcement officer someday.

Still, Perkins said he's had an easier time in the job market, because many opportunities require a GED just to turn in an application.

He now has a job interview Tuesday for a position he knows he is qualified for.

He said he'd advise anyone without a GED to "go and get it."

"It's a little time, a little effort," he said. "It feels good."

Wilkinson said receiving a GED at any age is a significant accomplishment.

"It means a lot to them," Wilkinson said. "That was the first step (Perkins) had to do."

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