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Watts job training aims for increased employment, decreased crime

January 30, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Local activist "Sweet Alice" Harris is helping keep young people on the job and off the street with a unique training program. Wednesday was graduation day in Watts.

It's a class you'd expect to see in a community college setting. But the Advanced Fire Extinguisher Company's class is tucked away in a room behind the house of youth outreach group Parents of Watts. And while the campus may be less than traditional, the jobs being created are very traditional and much desired.

"Hospitals, schools, businesses, they need to have annual services to prevent any kind of fires, so we have to go and do all the service," said program graduate Gabriel Joya.

The graduation ceremony honors the first class of students to graduate from the program, just eight this time. But all eight spent four months training and aced the state exam.

But the program is about more than just jobs. Organizers say it's also about solving the crime problem in Watts.

"If we can bring good paying jobs to this community we give young people a fighting chance without a gun," said U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn (44th District-Calif.).

It's not often you see people like Congresswoman Janice Hahn and L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at a graduation ceremony for fire extinguisher technicians.

But the driving force behind the program is longtime Watts activist "Sweet Alice" Harris, a woman who's got the clout and determination to make Watts safer.

"Trying to get rid of guns, this is how you get rid of them," said Alice. "They don't need any guns now, all they need now is the good jobs."

"With better-paying jobs, people wouldn't want to go out here and commit crimes because they're making decent money," said class graduate Dennis Richmond.

And so as this group of state-licensed fire extinguisher techs heads out into the world, another group heads into the classroom, getting jobs that can help put out fires while helping to extinguish the crime rate.


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