Community Impact Series - Operation Reach
By Ian McNulty
New Orleans, LA – Community IMPACT Series: Operation Reach| Sept. 21, 2010
Operation Reach started as the very epitome of grassroots when, at the age of 12, New Orleans native Kyshun Webster began tutoring his school peers in his family's garage.
Webster himself had been held back in school, and he started tutoring so that others wouldn't have to go through the same experience. From this beginning, his efforts eventually grew into a nonprofit that is now a regional force for youth development, one that works in New Orleans, Atlanta, Birmingham and Mobile and serves thousands of children each year with services from early learning to career prep.
But from its start in the garage, Operation Reach is now hitting the highway with an innovative new program called the Gulf South Youth Biodiesel Project. The program trains young people to convert spent cooking oils into engine fuel, and as Webster explains, it also helps transform the potential of those involved.
"We hope to create a social enterprise that promotes being good stewards of our environment and using waste material and doing good with it and creating new jobs and new economic opportunities for young people within the emerging green collar work force," says Webster.
Partnering with Louisiana Technical College, Operation Reach has set up a training facility and pilot production area for biodiesel fuel in Jefferson Parish. Its seven-month technical training program is aimed at out-of-school youth who are typically referred to Operation Reach by churches, community groups or the courts. By assembling biodiesel production systems, they get hands-on experience in marketable building trades like plumbing and pipefitting, and they learn chemistry from testing their materials and producing useable biodiesel in the lab. By the end of the program, the participants earn certification through the National Construction Center for Education and Research and they leave with a fundamental understanding of green building principles.
Hamilton Simons-Jones, development officer for Operation Reach, says some participants find jobs after the program while others return to school to pursue higher degrees and propel their careers.
"So they generally are a lot more employable when they leave us than when they came," says Simons-Jones. "And have a little more of a focus and a direction in terms of where they see themselves and how they see themselves as contributing members of the community we all envision."
Webster explains the program essentially harnesses a different approach to fuel to show young people the possibilities for a different future for themselves.
"Feedback has been very positive because it's a very highly technical but emerging field of practice, but once they get the exposure to it it's something they say ha, I can do this,'" says Webster. "Then they can see themselves doing it and learning the technology and learning the chemistry of this and moving forward in careers and being part of the vanguard of this emerging industry."
The Gulf South Youth Biodiesel Project revolves around new technology but Simons-Jones says at its heart the program is in synch with the overall goals of Operation Reach to help young people in the region reach their full potential.
"We see this as very much an innovative, community-based learning opportunity that really empowers young people to be leaders of change in our society, which has been fundamental to who we are since Kyshun was 12 years old in his grandmother's garage," says Simons-Jones.