GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new workforce reentry program is giving young people in the juvenile detention system access to technical opportunities. The program is part of a collaboration between the Midwest Tech Project and the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center.

Jonathan Jelks is a co-founder Midwest Technology Projectwhose mission is to introduce people and women of color to everything the tech industry has to offer.

“Whether it’s manufacturing that our community has historically based its economy on, or things that are more futuristic, technology will be at the forefront,” Jelks said. “There’s a talent gap right now in West Michigan that needs to be filled, and we’re helping people understand how they can be a part of that.”

One of the organization’s programs, known as “Tech X,” aims to provide those same opportunities to ex-offenders through outreach and training.

“It’s important for us to go where the people are, where they are most at risk, where the most adversity is, to work with them and help them understand that the world is at your fingertips,” Jelks said.

In a new pilot program in partnership with the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center, The Midwest Tech Project is bringing in a variety of tech professionals to teach young people how to become not only consumers of technology, but also producers.

“Turn into creators and turn into would-be entrepreneurs,” Jelks said.

Once a month, program participants learn about technology, including augmented reality, coding, and app development.

“We’re not just talking about the X’s and O’s. Of course we want to teach them how to code, but we’re also telling them that you can become an AI engineer. You can program robots or find the next StockX,” Jelks said.

A lack of opportunities can often lead to young people ending up in the juvenile detention system, he said. He hopes the program will provide education and empowerment for Kent County residents.

“So that they can then get gainful employment, because the main thing that stops recidivism is employment. Work, work, work,” Jelks said.

The pilot will run until December.

Jelks said when people leave the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center, the Midwest Tech Project hopes to continue to be a resource for them moving forward.

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