FOREST PROGRAM FOR AT-RISK YOUTH ON HOLD

September 12, 2002 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

A program designed to teach at-risk teenagers how to work in the forest has been put on hold because of technicalities in

funding.

The La Grande office of the Training and Employment Consortium has been coordinating with the Oregon Youth Authority and the Forest Service to develop a yearlong program that would give young offenders an opportunity to learn and work as a team, earning money for their efforts.

Under the plan, teams of five would study and work together to improve riparian and upland areas in the national forest.

The idea has earned praise from Ron Moschkau, Union County's juvenile parole and probation officer for OYA. He said the program would give at-risk young people an opportunity to find jobs outside the fast-food industry.

Lynn Trice of training and employment agrees.

"This will serve high-risk kids, the ones who don't get the support in the community that some others do," she said.

For now, the plan will remain just that — a plan.

Trice and others had hoped to find money to run the program from a funding source under the two-year-old federal program that provides payments to counties impacted by the loss of logging in national forests.

In a complicated organization, there are two funding streams — one, Title 2, is governed through a regional action team that considers requests for several counties in Northeast Oregon, and a second, Title 3, sends money directly to the counties.

Trice applied for the Title 3 county fund. She was turned down because the application did not fit the narrow criteria.

"It's a great program," said Rocky McVey, who coordinates the Title 3 programs. "I don't think they have any flaws."

One of the issues, McVey said, is supervision. To receive Title 3 funding, a paid county employee must be assigned to supervise the teenagers.

"It's my understanding that the county does not have the mechanism to do that," he said. "They (the teenagers) were going to be supervised by either another juvenile employee or somebody, but this legislation provides salaries and benefits for county employees."

All is not lost, McVey said. The program could be funded partly with Title 3 money and partly with Title 2 money that is distributed through the regional teams. Unfortunately, the regional teams have already selected the projects for the 2002-03 fiscal year, and the next year won't begin until Oct. 1, 2003.

Trice, however, is not giving up.

"We're committed to this. We're going to make it work," she said, adding that she is looking for "other sources of funding."

Trice's plan is to begin the after-school classes for five teenagers this fall and prepare them to work on Forest Service thinning projects by next summer.

Moschkau said that the forest program "will normalize their (a teenager's) life, give them an opportunity to succeed in the community. The value is immeasurable."

The Union County commissioners recently allocated $60,300 for other forest-related projects, including a $14,300 grant to Women in Timber, a forest products advocacy group, for an after-school "Tree School" program in Union County.

The state's youth authority has already been allocated $20,000 to help fund the ongoing program that gives boys from Hilgard the opportunity to work in the forest. Fire safety plans for homeowners and fire safety information brochures are also funded.

The upcoming fiscal year marks the second for the county payments legislation. Some funds allocated to Union County last year remain unspent, giving the county a total of $85,000 for forest-related programs for the current year.

County Commissioner John Howard praised the proposed youth program, and the agency coordination, calling it the best of the programs presented to the county.

"This is a unique program, and we need to figure out a way to find flexibility, a way to make this work," he said. "It is an impressive program. In these jobs youth learn real-life skills."