By Irene Drage • Irene Drage • 

Youth Opportunity Program toasts its success

“For those familiar with the program, this is a great achievement,” said board member Consuelo Christianson.

“If I hadn’t gone to YOOP, I wouldn’t be at college or have my license,” said Kylah Gunn, a recent graduate. “It really helped, because I’m doing what my dream is now.”

YOOP operates from offices in McMinnville and Newberg. It is open to youths 16 to 21 as a way to surmount barriers to educational and vocational opportunities.

The aim is to help participants earn diplomas, GEDs, professional certificates, college admissions, college scholarships, professional internships and, ultimately, jobs.

Deborah Cathers-Seymour, who heads the program, brings more than 35 years of experience with Chehalem Youth and Family Services. When she started, Chehalem operated one group home with 10 employees, she said.

Cathers-Seymour said the McMinnville office was located upstairs in the McMinnville Mercantile Building because of its accessibility to downtown foot traffic. And she said that had proven a good decision.

County Commissioner Kathy George was among those attending the event and singing the program’s praises.

“It’s so exciting, when we see kids who really want to achieve and who reach their goals, who have the support of the community behind them,” George said. “Thank you all for everything that you’re doing, for encouraging kids who want to be encouraged and who need to be encouraged.”

Jacob Helligso, who serves YOOP as a career development specialist, said, “This year we’ve served 262 kids in our county alone. That’s huge. That’s basically half of a high school that we’ve helped this year.

“Of those 262 kids, 91 have gotten their GED, high school diploma or other professional certificate, which will help them start on their path to their next step in their life. We’ve also achieved 90 jobs this year, as well as college placements.”

Introduced by Helligso, Gunn also got a chance to tell her story and give thanks for the boost she got.

Struggling with Attention Deficit Disorder, Gunn dropped out of high school at the end of her junior year. She said her school “just didn’t do what they could have done to help me succeed.”

She said, “I joined YOOP in October. I didn’t have my (driver’s) permit or my high school diploma.

“I got my permit in October and I got my GED in December. I started college in January and got my license in February.”

Gunn is currently attending beauty school in Tualatin in pursuit of a cosmetology degree. Thanks to YOOP, she said, “Hopefully, when I’m done with that, I can start my own business and do people’s hair and nails and makeup.”

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