Agape, school partner on youth jobs program

Adam Rollins
Posted 8/30/21

The Agape organization and Warren County R-III School District are partnering to provide a new job readiness and education support program for in-need students.

Agape this month announced the …

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Agape, school partner on youth jobs program


The Agape organization and Warren County R-III School District are partnering to provide a new job readiness and education support program for in-need students.

Agape this month announced the start of its SPARK program – Skills and Preparedness for At Risk Kids. The program is aimed at providing a model of workplace and educational success for young people who don’t have an example of that in their lives, said Agape Executive Director Michelle Bernth. To accomplish this, Agape will offer students at the R-III Alpha Academy paid work and training at Agape’s thrift store or food pantry while providing them with any help they need for their schooling.

“The idea is to provide interventions to at risk youth, give them job skills and training that can prepare them for entering the workforce successfully, and also, if needed, provide educational support to them for whatever educational path they are on,” Bernth said.

While Agape already had a job skills program aimed at adults, Bernth said SPARK comes with the unique mission of intervening in the lives of young adults who might otherwise be caught in a cycle of poverty. By providing an environment where people are supportive of their education and where they can learn to work as part of a successful team, Agape hopes to help give those youth a better start in life, Bernth said.

“It’s not just about the ‘hard’ job skills, it’s also about the ‘soft’ skills training: This is how we talk at work, this is how we dress at work, this is how we handle a conflict. Just setting them up with a model of what it’s like to come to work and be successful in that environment,” Bernth said.

Funding to be able to provide students with paid job training and support came from a Missouri state program that allows nonprofits to sell tax credits to support their operations. The funding is good for two years and is eligible for renewal, Bernth said.

The SPARK program has a cap of about 40 students, and is open to any young person, even those who are over high school age and/or from outside the R-III school district, Bernth said. However, Agape is working specifically with Alpha Academy to get the program started.

The one important thing the program still needs is successful people in the community who are willing to volunteer a little of their time.

“We like to connect every student to a community mentor, whether that’s a business person or someone who works in a trade they’re interested in, or something else like that,” Bernth said. “If anyone is interested in participating as a mentor, we would love to hear from them.”

R-III Superintendent Gregg Klinginsmith said the partnership with Agape offered a great opportunity for students who are on an alternate path to earning their diploma. Alpha Academy students who are enrolled in the Missouri Option Program are required to split their time between school and employment in order to graduate, and Agape will provide support for both halves of that equation, Klinginsmith explained. 

The Agape Thrift store being next door to the academy makes it easy for students to access that work as well, he added.

“What we’re trying to do is give kids real world experience and teach them some soft skills that prepare them for a future career,” Klinginsmith said. “We’re trying to do more internships across the board, and not just at Alpha. We’ve got a partnership with the (Warrenton) Chamber of Commerce for traditional high school students, and with Agape for non-traditional students.”

Businesses or individuals who wish to volunteer as mentors or purchase tax credits to support the SPARK program can call Agape at 636-456-4645.


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