Work Happens

Project seeks to connect 5,000 young people with life-changing jobs

At age 24, Jasmine Edwards’ life was an obstacle course. Growing up, she was a foster child who moved between homes. As an adult, she was homeless, unemployed and living at the Shade Tree Shelter. That’s when she finally caught a break.

At the shelter, she saw a flier for Work Happens. The program, which kicks off its 2010 goals this month and is paid for by Federal Workforce Investment Act funds, seeks to connect 5,000 young people in Southern Nevada (ages 14 to 24) with meaningful work that teaches them the value of an education.

Edwards signed up and got a job doing temporary clerical work in the Shade Tree office. “I loved it,” she says. And just like that, her new life was under way.

Working with computers was a big change from the gritty labor she’d done in the past, which included working as a janitor and overnight stocker at Target and Wal-Mart. With those jobs, she was inclined to just stop showing up, but that never happened at Shade Tree.

Her eight-week temporary job was extended, and then Shade Tree offered Edwards a staff position as an activities coordinator in the children’s activity center.

Now, as she approaches her 25th birthday, she’s living in her first apartment and saving enough money to move on to the next step—college.

It’s the first time in her life she feels stable. It’s also the first time she values what she’s doing. “Now I understand that having a job is a privilege,” she says. “No one owes you a job.”

That’s exactly the type of attitude that Work Happens Project 5,000 Kids hopes to share with thousands of other young people beginning April 8.

“When you start looking at the needs of our community,” says Ken LoBene, chairman of the youth council for Workforce Connections, “you begin to understand that we have a real serious problem.”

His group is the leader of a number of organizations (including the Clark County School District and the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. And he’s quite familiar with the needs: 13,800 kids dropped out of high school in 2008; 85 percent of the people in the Nevada penal system are high school dropouts; 83 percent of the people accessing all the federal social programs such as housing, welfare and food stamps are undereducated.

LoBene’s goal is to get 3,000 employers in all fields on board to offer temporary internships, mentoring and job-shadowing opportunities to young people of the community. LoBene is working with the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, the NAACP, the National Urban League, the Latin Chamber of Commerce Nevada, the Urban Chamber of Commerce, employers in the health care industry, banking industry and others to find a variety of opportunities to fit all interests.

The goal is to share the motivation and empowerment that Edwards discovered, as the young people learn how education translates into a better future. The program also aims to show employers what a difference they can make.

“Our hope,” LoBene says, “is that everybody will recognize that graduating more kids is the largest social and economic imperative that we have.”

The kickoff for Work Happens Project 5,000 Kids is 4-6 p.m. April 8 at the Fifth Street School, 401 S. Fourth St. To learn more, go to

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