Buffalo, NY - A new program in Buffalo is helping young people who may not have even finished high school become successful.
"New York has done better than a lot of states, but the fact is that we've been spending more money on prisons, less money on college," said President Barack Obama Thursday during his speech on higher education in Buffalo.
President Obama introduced his higher education reform plan in Western New York Thursday with the goal of making college a reality for more Americans.
A new program in Buffalo aims to do just that and more.
"We help people who otherwise wouldn't go to college, wouldn't finish high school, wouldn't be getting a job right away and struggle and maybe find other means to get money and things they need to do which are illegal means," says Elise Labatore.
Labatore just graduated from UB with her Masters in Social Work in May. She helped launch the VOICE Program which helps young people between the ages of 18 and 24, who either have a criminal record or dropped out of high school, get their GED and find work.
"It's been shown that one further year of average education can decrease the likelihood of violent crime in a person by almost 30-percent. So, it's very high need in our area since our poverty is almost double the national average," she says.
VOICE is part of the larger Peaceprints Prison Ministries.
Funded by a grant from the Department of Labor, VOICE's goal is to help 75 people in its first year.
When someone signs up, they gain instant access to the resources already out there to help them reach their educational goals.
"Our goal is to link them with their GED services, but also help support them through it. Link them with a tutor, have us check in on them, maybe go to the first class with them so it's a comfortable environment," says Labatore.
John Rose is a success story. Once in prison himself, he now helps at risk youth and those in the VOICE program, find their way.
"There should always be somebody for somebody. To help somebody to not go down the path and the road that they went down is very important. In these days and time, you can find out that someone will listen to someone else more so than a family member," says Rose.
And, even though the program is only in its first year, Labatore knows it's already making an impact.
"I love seeing people succeed and they realize something about themselves that they maybe knew before and they see their own potential. I love seeing them succeed. That's what makes me feel good. It's not so much that I helped them, it's them succeeding is really, that's the best part," she says.
Since April, VOICE has reached out to more than 80 other programs in the Buffalo area to help at risk youth.
So far, the VOICE program has helped three people with training and two have been offered jobs right at the training site.
If you would like more information about VOICE, call 716-235-8297 or email firstname.lastname@example.org