Work is under way to bring the Heart of Oregon program to Prineville, which helps disadvantaged youth find ways to enter the workforce or move on to secondary education

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Darcy Bedortha, who is helping spearhead the Heart of Oregon effort in Prineville, speaks at a Prineville Kiwanis meeting.

While many local high school students take the traditional journey of earning a diploma and moving on to college, some struggle to follow that path.

To help those young individuals, work is under way to bring a nationally-based program to Prineville that will help prepare them for their future.

Heart of Oregon is a non-profit agency that helps disadvantaged youth gain skills through jobs, education, and stewardship. The program has already gained a foothold in Bend and Redmond and funding has been made available to expand it to Prineville.

Darcy Bedortha currently serves the Redmond program as the stewardship teacher for GED and basic skills prep. She has been presenting the program to a variety of local civic and government organizations to drum up support in the community.

“The goal of the Heart of Oregon Corps program is workforce development and education, primarily,” she explained. “Our target is disconnected youth.”

Bedortha said that the program started out serving incarcerated and adjudicated youth, but has since broadened its scope.

“We have expanded to students who for one reason or another dropped out of the traditional education program,” she said. “So our biggest focus is to keep them engaged, to get them either their GED or a high school diploma, and move them into post-secondary education, whether that is vocational or college.”

The program targets people 16 to 24 years old and trains them in first aid and CPR as well as chainsaw certification and basic workplace etiquette.

“We teach them to skills as basic as just showing up to work on time with proper attire and respectfully,” she said. “Often, the background that our kids come from, that’s not something that is taught.”

Money for a Prineville program recently became available because an $80,000 portion of Heart of Oregon grant funding for its Bend program was set aside. In order to launch a local program, another $20,000 of financial support was needed. Bedortha, joined by Crook County High School Youth Transition Program Instructor Ramona McCallister and Prineville Mayor Betty Roppe, reached out to a variety of local groups including Prineville Kiwanis and the Prineville City Council, and have secured all but $6,500.

The local program would rely on partnerships with other agencies in the community to help serve youth in need. Traditional partners have included the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, and Heart of Oregon has already joined forces with the local school district, helping launch the Youth Transition Program.

“As I am working more and more with this program, what I am seeing is there is so much more to this program than finding employment for young people,” McCallister said. “There is just so much value in having these young people engaged in learning work skills and being part of a community.”

Roppe sees a need for a program like Heart of Oregon that provides help to young residents who might otherwise slip through the cracks.

“I see some people graduating from high school and not being able to find work,” she said, “and they don’t want to go on to college or they would be quite happy if they could just find a position and go to work. I think this is an advantage for those young people.”

Bedortha said she is grateful to the Prineville community for the support they have provided, and thrilled to participate in the local Heart of Oregon effort.

“This is the kind of program I have dreamed of for Crook County and what I hoped to be a part of when I became a teacher,” she said.

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