Refugees Will Build Drones As Part Of Federally Funded Jobs Program

Rachel Stoltzfoos | Managing Editor, The Daily Caller News Foundation

The Department of Labor has awarded Utica, New York, $2 million to teach young refugees how to build drones as part of a summer jobs program.

About 400 teenage refugee students living in the city will get part-time summer jobs through the program, as well as tutoring in English and Math. Those who demonstrate academic competence will then take part in a year-long drone building challenge during the school year, as the work and tutoring continues.

The 14- and 15-year-old refugee students will learn how to design a drone and then construct their own model using the lab of the local Mohawk Valley Community College, which has an award-winning drone studies program.

“It was just a population we chose to target,” Alice Savino, executive director of the area Workforce Development Board that applied for the grant, told The Daily Caller News Foundation, speaking to the decision to direct the funds specifically to refugees. “These kids are here, and they need help.”

The drone component of the program is designed to prime some of the refugees for potential work in the drone industry, she said, because of a local market created by businesses that are testing drones at a nearby U.S. Air Force base near the city.

“The prime focus will be refugee youth in the city,” the grant application abstract reads. “About 1 in 6 Uticans is a refugee from another nation. State data shows this group has the highest dropout rate, lowest college-ready rate in the city.”

The board is a non-profit that runs a summer program to help low-income youth build work and academic skills. Savino told TheDCNF money for the new program will more than double the number of teenagers the board can help.

The Department of Labor announced the grant in conjunction with the White House last week. Utica was listed as one of eleven communities awarded a total of $21 million to fund jobs programs for youth. A two-sentence description of the Utica grant identifies it as “The New American Career Pathways project,” which will provide the refugee “in-school youth” population with summer jobs and academic support.

Contacts at the city and county government’s office, including the mayor of Utica, told The Daily Caller News Foundation they were not familiar with the grant. A spokeswoman for the city’s congressman, Rep. Richard Hanna, directed TheDCNF to a local refugee program run through MVCC.

Some expressed frustration and amazement that the White House is singling out refugees for the program in comments on a local news report about the program

“This is getting ridiculous what about the ones who were born and raised here,” an apparent Utica local wrote. “My son has a full time job and still lives with me and my husband he can barely make ends meet. … [W]hen is it our turn when does it end with all these other people coming here. Im so frustrated!!!!!!”

“So legal Americans are not worthy of summer jobs? Can’t wait for November,” another added.

Savino, however, told TheDCNF she has not heard negative comments from the local community. “If we don’t help [the refugee kids] be productive now, we’re going to pay for it later,” she said. “The local community is extremely supportive.”

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