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Sam Castello, The Wellness Coalition executive director, was the featured speaker at the Gila Economic Development Alliance monthly Roundtable on Friday, March 15.

Castello spoke about the business assistance programs. "We have a basic framework of our economic development programs," Castello said. "Our Non-Profit Resource Center is targeted toward non-profits that are service providers. Some things are unique to non-profits, but they are core businesses. They follow business principles, such as don't spend more than you take in."

He also talked about TWC's youth programming, which includes the "Spot" and youth development.

The Spot is a safe, supportive environment for youths with young adults as role models. "We work with them on attitudes and if they are seeking help. We show them how to be professional."

Another youth program TWC has been participating in for several years will go into its fourth summer in 2013. The Youth Conservation Corps program is service oriented, with community engagement and involvement and has helped such agencies and organizations as the Silver City Public Library and Serenity Acres horse rescue.

The AmeriCorps program of which Silver City has the second largest program in New Mexico pays youths a stipend to give them the opportunity to prove themselves. Participants have worked in health care centers, early childhood, centers, various schools, The Volunteer Center and at the Spot.

"The program helps them with skill building and resume building," Castello said. "They can get scholarships to higher education. We have had 32 Corps members who received scholarships. We serve several counties, including Grant, Hidalgo, Catron, Luna, Sierra and Socorro. More than $176,000 has gone out to young people in these counties for service and higher education. We have members working with Silver City MainStreet Project on the Big Ditch, at Bataan Memorial Park and with the U.S. Forest Service on trails."

He said the program is geared toward 18- to 25-year-olds. They are taught how to use and maintain tools, how to work as a team, how to show up on time and on basic communications skills. "Come June, we will have 70 on the payroll in six different counties. This year, we have an exciting program with MainStreet to clean up the area and be a part of the community."

Another economic development program features Individual Development Accounts. An individual can create a savings plan to start a business, buy a home or for more education. The participants go through a financial literacy program, and once they save $1,000, they can receive a match of $4,000. "Currently we have 60 savers," Castello said. "Each person must have a strong plan around good financial tools. Thirty-seven of our IDA account holders are under 30 years of ago. Almost all of them are under 40."

Earl Montoya, Silver City resident, said what Castello was talking about was workforce development. "That's what we talk about all the time at these meetings. This is money coming in at no cost to business people and is building up the community. You should support it any way you can. Look at La Capilla—it has not had a problem with graffiti, because youths worked on it."

Castello pointed out that "Earl is a TWC board member. We are actively recruiting board members." To a question, he said most funding for the programs is federal. For instance, the AmeriCorps funding funnels through the state down to private and local areas. The Youth Conservation Corps funding also passes federal dollars through the state.

"We also have local funders, such as Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. and Grant County," Castello said. "With Silver City, we work on a cost reimbursement basis."

The IDA is a federal program, which comes through Albuquerque. "One of the ways to increase the number of IDAs is with groups that already have funds for business, education and home ownership." For instance, he said, a local funder could designate the funds only to someone attending Western New Mexico University or to a specific business or local home ownership.

Mike Trujillo, Gila EDA member, asked how the group covers liability.

"If the youth is with the YCC, he or she is covered by our insurance, if the person is 18 years or older," Castello said. "If the youth is younger than 18, he or she is heavily supervised, and there are a lot of permission forms and waivers."

Bruce Ashburn, Silver City Small Business Development Center director, said one of his group's best relationships is with the TWC. "We co-sponsor workshops and work with them on IDAs. I can't tell you how important you are to the community," he said to Castello. "It would be difficult to get IDAs down to the ones who need them without you."

Hurley Mayor Edward Encinas asked if TWC reaches out to schools.

"We could do better with that," Castello said. "We have a great relationship with Aldo Leopold High School, but we need to get more into Silver and Cobre schools. One of the aspects of the IDA program is to work on financial literacy courses at schools."

Jeremiah Garcia, Gila EDA chairman, asked if the business community could come to TWC to tap into better workers.

"Hidalgo Medical Services has hired several who worked with the clinics through the youth programs," Castello said, "as have non-profits and downtown businesses. There is a way to create a curriculum and get a certificate to show to the businessperson the youth's qualifications. We don't yet have a close partnership with the business sector."

"We were not aware of your programs," Garcia said.

Castello pointed out that youth unemployment is almost double that for adults. "It makes sense, because they have no job skills and no resumes. We are also trying to build a pipeline for youths who want to get back on track. For the YCC, we interviewed 40, but could not take them all. There is a huge need, but we must have certain skills in a team."

Lee Gruber, co-owner with her husband David DelJunco of Syzygy Tileworks said several of the young people who work at Syzygy have taken advantage of the IDA. "We just hired someone at the Silver City Arts and Cultural District who was in AmeriCorps. He was here and fell in love with Silver City."

To a question about crews in the Lordsburg area, Castello said AmeriCorps members have worked there, but this year, YCC crews will also be in the area.

In answer to another question about IDAs, Castello said the program was full, but there is a waiting list.

Anthony Solis of Workforce Connections asked if TWC were partnering with the program. "We have a lot of resources on our website, and youths are more computer savvy than many who come to see us."

"We are right on the edge of developing a partnership with you," Castello said. "We've talked together several times."

The rest of the Roundtable meeting, consisting of reports from area entities and organizations will be covered in subsequent articles.

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