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|Eric Whittley Life Skills Center opens|
The Eric Whittley Life Skills Center recently kicked off its partnership with several local educational groups to provide job training skills to residents living in south Monroe.
Raymond Whittley recently opened the center in honor of his deceased son, Eric, who died in 2006 at age 34 after a six-year battle with valley fever. Eric got the disease while visiting Phoenix, Ariz.
Raymond Whittley said the center's mission is something his son would be proud of.
"This got started behind Eric," Whittley said. "This is what we call Eric, and it's dedicated in his honor."
"Eric was the type of person who liked working with people and kids," Whittley said. "He thought he was going to live, and I told him, 'Eric, if you live, I'll set you up where you can work with people.'"
Whittley used his own money to remodel an old building on Apple Street and turn it into the life skills center, which officially opened several months ago.
"This is a really good feeling," Whittley said. "Everybody always says it's hard to do something on the southside of town, and this is proof that's wrong, because it's working."
Monroe City Council chairman Red Stevens agreed the facility will benefit many citizens in south Monroe.
"It is meant for the southside to grow and with this partnership we will be able to move forward, renew pride in the southside and give our citizens -- who feel as though they don't have any hope -- the knowledge that all they have to do is step forward and receive the blessings before them," Stevens said.
Sen. Francis Thompson added, "I am excited about what can be done here because if we can take people off the street and put them in an educational setting, we will make a tremendous difference. I'm elated about the possibilities here."
Workforce development training will now be offered at the center thanks to the partnership with the Louisiana Technical College, the Louisiana Delta Community College and the Workforce Investment Board Area 81.
Ellen Hill, dean of workforce development for Louisiana Technical College's Region 8, said interested residents can contact the Whittley center to inquire about admissions into these programs.
Job skill training that will be offered at Whittley's center include computer literacy, certified manufacturing specialist, general educational development, basic carpentry and certified nurse assistant. These programs are being funded by the Workforce Investment Board and the Louisiana Technical College's "Pathways to Construction" funds.
"The goal is to give them enough entry-level training so they gain a skill and then decide if they want to go on to more extensive training," Hill said. "At that point, they can choose from the programs offered at Delta or our programs."
"This will be a significant step forward in providing training that is accessible," she said of the Eric Whittley Life Skills Center. "It will allow someone in the neighborhood to easily come here. It certainly provides us with a way of getting workforce training in needed areas. This is providing workforce training the way it should be: in the neighborhood where it's accessible, and with community partners which allows us to reach more people."
She said the objective is to provide training for quality jobs that have a starting salary of $12 an hour with benefits.
"Our goal is to get our students to a livable wage," she said.
Dr. Luke Robins‚ chancellor of Louisiana Delta Community College, said the educational challenge in Louisiana is daunting, but it's something that must be tackled.
"I think this is a great project that will move all of our community forward in a positive way," Robins said. "We have an elephant that we're dealing with; we have a lot of work to do to increase the educational level and opportunities for the citizens of northeast Louisiana."
"And, we're going to have to eat that elephant one bite at a time, and this is a first bite, and it's a very positive bite, but we've got to keep after it," he said.