WIA celebrates making difference in people#039;s lives

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 29, 2005

When Bruce Stewart picked up his diploma from Rock Hill High School in 1984, he graduated into a world that seemed to have few options for him.

"The economy was bad, there were no jobs here, Ironton Iron had closed, there just wasn't any future," Stewart said.

Stewart's father had died when he was very young, and his mother lived on a fixed income. With no opportunities to make money, and little money to attend college, Stewart was in between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Email newsletter signup

It was at that unnerving time in his life that Stewart received a call from the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization, offering to get him involved with one of their workforce development programs, formerly known as the Job Training Partnership Act, now the Workforce Investment Act.

"Through the CAO, I got a college degree, I got work experience, and then I got hired by Eagle Distributing Company in Huntington, W.Va., and I've been there since 1986," Stewart said.

Stewart was led to his job by long-time CAO caseworker Gary Tyo, who is another success story of the job-development programs of the CAO.

After the plant he had been working at closed, Tyo watched much of the industrial economy of Ironton disintegrate around him. Eventually, he found a job with the CAO, but wanted to help other have the same chance.

"It was just an outrage, the smokestack industry was gone," Tyo said. "So because of my background, I started job coordinating our dislocated worker program. I know a lot of people have received help, have benefited from the program and turned their life around because it made them job-ready."

The WIA looks to give youth - and some adults - a leg-up on the workplace by providing them the tools they might be lacking. Participants often receive job training, extra education or maybe even just a little guidance.

Stewart was in good company while getting his work experience. One of earliest jobs at the public swimming pool had him taking tickets alongside JTPA-placed lifeguard and future Marshall University head football coach Mark Snyder.

Not every job was as glamorous, in fact, Stewart reminisced as he walked up the stairs of the Community Action building about shoveling cement to fill the frame that would make the stairs.

Now Stewart works as an on-premise Manager with the Eagle Distributing Company. He's married, and has recently adopted a baby girl from China.

"I don't know that I would have had any success in life, any success I have I attribute to Community Action," Stewart said. "The monies just weren't there for me to attend college, or even to buy decent clothes. I wouldn't have had any opportunities without the CAO."

It does Tyo well to hear stories like Stewart's, but with slashed funding, he's worried that the program may not be able to have the same far-reaching effect.

To help the program gain a higher profile, and to say thanks to all their participants, the Workforce Development Resource Center will be hosting a WIA Customer Appreciation Day Sept. 28, at their offices at 120 N. Third St., from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Despite Tyo's fears, he's still confident that his group is making a difference in the area's youth Š one light at a time.

"Maybe there will be kids just like him 50 years down the road, and the light will come on," Tyo said.

"That's what it's about, the light coming on. Once you develop the fact that there's a future for them, and that their decisions make a difference, then there's hope."