A Maine Department of Labor employee from Dennysville who has been assisting young men and women under the Workforce Investment Act Youth Program in Machias says she has the best job in the world. Through her work in scholarship attainment and compassionate encouragement, Program Manager Janie Small has helped a number of youth achieve a college degree and choose sustainable careers. The young people she has helped praise Small for her dedication to their success.
"That program is the coolest thing going, and I'm changing people's lives every day," stresses Small. "I tell them that they can overcome anything that's prevented them from attending school or finding employment. I can point them towards sustainable employment that will still be around a few years down the road. And if they're going to college, I can help with tuition, paying for books and a scholarship search."
It's been 35 years since Small began assisting people through the Department of Labor's Summer Youth Employment Program. Since then she has worked in several other programs, including Job Partners in Training and the Workforce Development Center, "But I was working with kids in all of them," she says.
Through the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Youth Program, Small meets seniors in every Washington County high school. "I can help them in many ways, including applying for as many scholarships as possible, give them an explanation of careers that are out there and steer them to jobs that will still want employees a few years down the road."
"I had one youth come in last year. No one had told him about scholarships, and he only had two weeks to apply," recalls Small. "I told him to go home and start writing essays, and I found six scholarships that he could apply for. Then he called me, really excited, to say he had gotten the one from the Descendants of Veterans. ... In another week, he called back, screaming, 'I got the one for Maine Maritime Academy and I can go at no cost.' That's what I like to hear."
Small says she is "humbled" by the letters sent to the Maine Department of Labor from beneficiaries of the WIA youth program, and she is surprised by the personal background information the writers included.
Derek Lapointe is one of Small's fans and describes himself as an engineer with a very successful construction company and a new home. "I am living the American dream. ... The Workforce Investment Act Youth Program made it possible for me to focus more on the schooling and not work. [I received] assistance with getting text books that I needed, help writing my resumé and, when my wife and I had our son, we had to live with her parents to save money, but they lived almost 60 miles away from school, and I was able to receive help with the traveling expenses."
"Most of my friends who are just as smart, if not smarter than I, are still working those seasonal jobs and just trying to make it through one season at a time," points out Lapointe.
Keith Turner Jr. of Eastport is a student at Maine Maritime Academy and says Small is "one of the most amazing people I've ever met in my life. [She's] done so much for me, helping with books, uniforms, tuition, etcetera."
When people praise Turner for his academic success, he says, "I always have to mention you, Janie, because I honestly would feel guilty for not giving you credit. I would not have had a clue as to what I would have needed to go off to college if it weren't for you."
Joshua Spencer writes, "I can honestly say that without the help of Janie Small and the Career Center's [WPI] program my college experience would have been a much more difficult one. The financial assistance provided to me cut back on the personal cost of my college experience, and as a result I was able to get through four years of college without taking any loans."
"In addition to the financial assistance given to me, Janie Small also provided constant encouragement and supported me throughout my journey," adds Spencer. "The [WIA] program is a tremendous program that I hope will continue to be able to grow and help others the way that is has helped me. Once again, I would like to express my gratitude to the Career Center, and Janie Small in particular, for aiding me on my college degree. ... We did it."
Now a graduate of the New England School of Communications, Molly Marie Perry recalls the question her "darling friend and mentor" Janie Small posed to her four years ago, "'To be or not to be? That is the question.' I come from a rather modest family in Downeast Maine, and college seemed like it was out of reach for me financially. ... Alas. But there was hope. For I had a fairy godmother [Janie Small], and she wanted very much for me to succeed. ... Now I am the first of my immediate family to graduate college, and I continue making my kin and myself proud every day."
Ashley McLean, a 2006 graduate of Calais High School, is the mother of a 2-year-old son and a fourth year student in Husson University's occupational therapy program. "When I first got the news I was pregnant, my family assumed that my college dreams were over. Contrary to their beliefs, I still continued my education," she reports. "Through the youth program I was able to continue my education without having to rely on student loans, which must be paid back. Although I have received extensive help through financial aid, without the help of the youth program I would not be able to pay for the remainder of my student bills in addition to paying for books, as well as other school related necessities."
McLean stresses, "Not only is the program effective in providing money needed for school, the woman who has worked with me throughout the process has been extremely helpful and friendly. ... [Janie Small] also keeps in close touch with me and is always putting in an extra effort to help me out the best she can."
Small says anyone who thinks they can be helped by the Workforce Investment Act Youth Program may call her at 255-1923 or 1-800-292-8929, or e-mail her at <email@example.com>.
"I just have a passion for helping people," says Small. "I love my job."