LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — As a person leaves jail or prison, they face a number of barriers, including stigma and unemployment. A program in Little Rock is helping young adults overcome those challenges and more.

Rock City Reentry is a program of the Little Rock Workforce Development Board funded by a $1.5 million federal grant.

It's providing people age 18 to 24 with the training and credentials they need to be successful in the workforce.

"For the most part, we find that our clients want to do their part," W.J. Monagle, executive director of the Little Rock Workforce Development Board, said. "They want to be contributing members of society. They want to do a job, so we give them that opportunity and that lift."

With the help of community partners, Rock City Reentry provides training in construction, retail, welding, commercial driver's license (CDL) and culinary arts/hospitality.

Food Jobs Work conducts the program's culinary training, in partnership with Our House. Dominique Phillips, 21, is completing the six-week course.

"[After] going down the wrong path in my life, this really helps," said Phillips.

In the mornings, students meet in the kitchen at Our House to learn hands-on food production and assist in preparing food for the shelter. In the afternoons, students meet in the Our House Career Center for classroom discussion, including soft skills, facts and the science behind their kitchen work.

"Our program is just as much about learning the tactics of working in the kitchen as it is about getting out of your own head, getting out of a negative mindset." Food Jobs Work executive director Christie Ison said.

In addition to job training, Rock City Reentry can also provide clients with adult education and GED classes, legal aid, recovery support, mental health counseling, financial assistance and more.

"We want to do everything that we can to possibly help them be a success," Deborah Senter, Rock City Reentry program director, said. "We want to bridge all the barriers so to speak."

Upon graduating from Food Jobs Work, Phillips plans to find a job in the foodservice industry. She hopes to one day open her own bakery.

"I have children and they need me more than anything and this program is helping me go where I'm trying to go in life," Phillips said.

To be considered eligible for Rock City Reentry, applicants must be 18 to 24 years old, live in Little Rock or North Little Rock and currently be on parole or probation.

For more information about Rock City Reentry, contact the Little Rock Workforce Center at 501-682-3379.

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