Diverse children enjoying playing with toys

A Central Oregon nonprofit’s youth education program known for building homes is aiming to build new child care workers, too.

Heart of Oregon Corps announced this month plans to launch a child and youth development track for its YouthBuild program, offering 16- to 24-year-olds an entry into the industry badly in need of additional resources.

While the program won’t have an immediate impact on the number of open child care slots in the region, Executive Director Laura Handy said the main goal of the program is to empower youth who have cycled out of the school system, particularly those from low-income backgrounds and who need to boost their résumés.

“We want to open those doors back up,” Handy told The Bulletin.

Crook, Jefferson and Deschutes counties are all considered “child care deserts,” meaning there aren’t nearly enough open child care spots for the number of kids in the county who need one. Just 22% of Deschutes County’s children age 0-5 had access to child care before the pandemic, according to the most recent research from Oregon State University.

Heart of Oregon Corps since 2009 has offered a version of the program offering students construction training and hands-on volunteer experience building affordable housing in the region, but the new track is the program’s first foray into another field.

The child and youth development track works largely the same way, according to Tanner Rohne, the program’s trainer. After an intensive, two-week orientation, students will spend eight weeks obtaining key certifications that allow them to spend the next eight months applying those skills in the classrooms of local child care providers.

“We want to give them the whole gauntlet of what the progression of youth go through from birth through 18. We know that child development never stops,” Rohne said. “So we want to give them the tools needed to have an open mindset and a growth mindset to welcome learning and to push it and thrive in it.”

After the first year in the program, students move into the child care workforce full time and continue to receive goal-setting support and other YouthBuild resources for the second year.

The child and youth development track takes place out of Heart of Oregon Corps’ Redmond campus. Participants receive a daily stipend starting at $26 a day, plus an AmeriCorps educational grant of around $1,600 at the completion of the program, Rohne said.

Around 425 students have gone through YouthBuild’s construction program in Central Oregon, and 70% were employed after the program, according to Rohne.

Heart of Oregon had been considering other possible tracks — such as health care professions — for expanding the YouthBuild program, but Rohne said the community need was clearest in the child care workforce.

“We wanted to really bring in those early entry-level positions to really get kids in the door and really see how heart-filled working with children really is,” Rohne said. “We feel that we have the ability to help pull on those heartstrings and really express and see the need to get qualified educators for our youth and our children.”

The child and youth development track will launch at the end of January, and the nonprofit is in now accepting applications for the program. More information about applying is available online at heartoforegon.org/programs.

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Bulletin reporter Bryce Dole

contributed to this report.

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