Giving dropouts a second chance

Friday, September 23, 2011 - 10:56am

The lost earnings for the 2010 Missouri high school dropouts totals nearly $5.2 billion dollars.

One organization in the Ozarks is trying to reverse that trend by helping kids get back on track.

Alternative Opportunities is an alternative for those students who felt high school wasn't for them.

Many had some sort of barrier in their way to completing their GED and finding a good job.

One mother of two we spoke with says, without the program she doesn't know where she'd be.

"I was kind of a rebellious teenager, so I dropped out of school," said Rebekah Boudoin.

Nearly 20,000 Missouri students don't graduate from high school every year.

"I didn't want my kids, at the same age as me, having an excuse to drop out because their mommy did," she said.

Rebekah Boudoin was one of those students, back in 2006, when she was just 16 years old.

"My oldest son just turned five and I have a three year old," she said. She's now 23 and is getting her life back on track thanks to Alternative Opportunities.

"Maybe they are a single parent, maybe they've dropped out of high school and need GED classes," said Alternative Opportunities Program Director Lauren Solidum.

The program is through the Missouri Career Center--designed especially for youth ages 16 to 21.

"We're providing occupational skills training, job readiness training, and soft skills," said Solidum. It works one on one with people like Rebekah to help them find a path for the future.

"We work with businesses in the community--Springfield and the surrounding area--and provide a 240 hour paid internship," Solidum said. For Rebekah, that internship was at the Springfield License Office. It was that experience that led to her new job at Schlotzsky's.

"I'm a baker," said Rebekah, "I bake all the bread here."

"She is an absolute success story for us," Solidum said, "She learned skills and is out in the workforce."

She's not done yet.

She starts classes at OTC next semester.

"What I want to do is be an RN or psychology," Rebekah said.

She readily admits none of it would be possible without the guidance and direction from Alternative Opportunities.

"I feel awesome that I've made it this far and it's all for my kids. I want them to have a good life."

Alternative Opportunities is calling on youth looking for some direction in life, but it's also inviting more businesses to become part of the process.

It works with about 100 businesses, but would like to work with more.

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