R.I.S.E. : Helping the Community Rise Up Together

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By Heather Bennett

In Fort Walton Beach there is a movement to bridge the gap between job openings and skilled laborers. This community, which depends on construction and other skilled labor jobs, will lose a large part of its workforce as the baby boomers in these industries start to retire. At the same time, young adults in this area who have aged out of foster care or have spent time in the Department of Juvenile Justice, need jobs as they learn to transition into adulthood.

R.I.S.E., which stands for recruit, insight, support and educate, is a nonprofit organization in Fort Walton Beach, founded by Pastor Willie Farrow and Kevin Reeves, to support our at-risk youth and help prepare them to fill the skilled labor jobs that are becoming available in the community. “We see ourselves as being an entity to bring an awareness to the community, and how we can address this need within it,” said Pastor Willie.

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Governor Ron DeSantis has pushed for more certificate programs in Florida because people are needed in the trades. He has requested millions to help support workforce education and technical programs. Central Florida and South Florida have 21st Century Community Learning Centers, that not only help kids at low-performing schools, but also have career and adult education with certificate programs. There are no programs like that here.

“We find in this area, the panhandle of Florida, we do not have a transition home or transitional services for youth,” stated Pastor Willie. “Why do we incarcerate the youth when we really need them to be a functional part of the tax base? The best thing for us to do then is to counsel and guide them through the process so they can become contributing members of our community.”

R.I.S.E. wants to help as the need for plumbers, electricians, carpenters and HVAC technicians continues to grow. “We have vacancies in the construction and trade industries, as the average age of construction workers is 56-57 years old. If we don’t start training the existing workforce, in 10 years we’re going to be out of workers,” said Pastor Willie. “We want to be the catalyst in the middle to draw everybody together.”

Their partner, Beulah First Baptist Church, acquired Brooks Elementary recently. R.I.S.E. is working with businesses in the community to remodel it into a vocational school that will accommodate 200 students where they can get GED assistance, tutoring, and access to certificate programs.

In addition to the school, R.I.S.E. wants to build 48 transition homes. When children leave foster care at 18, they are on their own unless they have a transitional home. The Department of Juvenile Justice is looking to agencies, like R.I.S.E., who can provide these homes to keep young adults from entering or reentering the criminal justice system. “We know what we have to do is lay the groundwork because the funding and the opportunities are there to meet the greater need, which is our community and our children,” said Pastor Willie. By providing homes and a workforce education, R.I.S.E. will be setting up our youth for success, which also makes our community successful.

Recently, Green Berets from Eglin, along with a group of kids from the Department of Juvenile Justice, volunteered to clean up Brooks Elementary. The event was sponsored by Okaloosa Gas, Gulf Power, Chelco and Vincent Jones Roofing. R.I.S.E. will continue to hold events as well as fundraisers to keep the project rolling; and in February, Beulah First Baptist Church will host the FAMU gospel choir to raise funds.

Pastor Willie said they are looking to build relationships with chapel services on military bases, as well as local colleges. They are also very grateful for community members who want to get involved. If you are interested in learning more about R.I.S.E transition homes and how you can sponsor an event or classroom, you can visit their website at riseth.org.

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