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Program prepares previously incarcerated youth for environmental management jobs

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A program through RecycleForce will provide training and placement in environmental jobs for previously incarcerated young adults throughout the state thanks to federal funding.

The program will reach 120 students primarily ages 18-25. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded $500,000 to RecycleForce to recruit and train at least 75 of those students in cleanup and reuse of contaminated properties.

Funding for the program comes from a grant from the EPA’s Brownfields Program. With industry-recognized certifications, RecycleForce works primarily with young adults who have been incarcerated or are experiencing homelessness.

The training program will focus on certifying students with one state and 15 federal certifications in lead and asbestos removal, eliminating mold, testing and analyzing samples, and handling emergency remediation.

Most of the students in the program have not completed high school or obtained a high school equivalency and are returning to society after being incarcerated at a young age, said Training Director Ken Alexander, which is why assessing needs and developing a plan is “pertinent.”

RecycleForce partners with adult education programs and Ivy Tech to help students get their high school equivalency diploma and continued education certifications. Students in the RecycleForce program have multiple career paths to choose from, and the decision is ultimately up to them.

“What’s attractive about our organization is that from day one, they become employed with the organization,” Alexander said.

The grant will help pay for half of the student’s salary, allowing students to start full-time positions at no less than $15 an hour — with the potential to earn more. Most students finish the program after 120 days, but classes can be shorter or longer depending on their experience and desired outcome.

The program also helps reduce violence, Alexander said.

“Whenever you can provide the young people with an alternative to the streets, it reduces recidivism,” he said.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests more than $1.5 billion over five years through the EPA’s Brownfields Program. Many trainees from the program are from historically underserved neighborhoods or live in areas that are overburdened by pollution.

Some students in the program are already in the classroom working their way toward graduation.

Contact staff writer Jayden Kennett at 317-762-7847 or by email jaydenk@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @JournoJay.

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