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Refill Jackson Initiative
Workforce Training for Local Youth

Caitlin Brooking
Executive Director
ReFill Jackson Initiative

The Greek mathematician Archimedes wrote, “Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I will move the earth.” At the Refill Jackson Initiative (RJI), we strive to provide the place and the lever for Jackson’s youth so that they can move the earth. Our “place” is an eight-week workforce development program based in West Jackson. Our 18-24-year-old members participate in classroom instruction on “soft skills” necessary in the workplace. They receive on-the-job training and are connected to resources to help them overcome the obstacles that keep them out of the workforce.

ReFill Jackson Initiative (RJI) provides career coaching so participants can visualize, plan, and enact a bright future. When members graduate from RJI, they are equipped with a knowledge base and practical skills – the “lever.” Graduates walk away with communication skills, experience on the job site, tools for goal setting, professional certifications such as SmartStart and the National Career Readiness Certificate, and most importantly, a community of staff, mentors, and peers to support them as they navigate the workforce.

I arrived as the new CEO and President at the Refill Jackson Initiative in November of 2021 to an organization still adjusting to a COVID environment and in the initial stages of growth as a two-year-old nonprofit. Conceived initially as a workforce training cafe, COVID forced us to close our cafe in March of 2020, but the need for training and engagement has only increased among Jackson’s youth.

RJI has continued to train and support our members by partnering with community organizations and businesses. Stewpot Community Services, St Dominic, Broad Street Bakery, and the Book Rack have hosted on-the-job training. At the same time, participants continued to receive our classroom instruction, career development, and social services.

We have graduated more than 100 young people since 2019 and have learned we still have plenty of work to do. Lack of transportation and childcare, mental and physical health challenges, and housing insecurity continue to plague our young people. Our members have worked hard to overcome academic setbacks – about half do not have a high school equivalency, a challenge that cannot be adequately addressed in 8 weeks. We have successfully gotten members back on track toward self-sustainability, but we have ambitious goals to extend our reach. RJI is proud to be a part of the Jackson community. We are eager to partner with other youth-serving and workforce organizations to create a community of care to serve young Jacksonians, reconnect them with their community, and support their journey toward family-sustaining employment. We are currently recruiting 18-24-year-olds for our 13th cohort starting on March 30. For more information, please visit our website at www.refilljackson.org/apply.

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