Stories

A noble vision to give people a purpose and grow local economies

Of the more than 1000 community colleges in the US, one college in Andalusia has developed a program that takes a unique approach to workforce development. As President of Lurleen B. Wallace (LBW) Community College, Dr. Brock Kelley saw a unique opportunity to help area businesses address labor shortages by giving people who already lived in the region a purpose. In the region LBW serves, nearly 20% of the population live with disabilities and nearly 70% of them are unemployed. That’s more than 50,000 people who already live in the region.

Dr. Kelley went to see employers in the area to assess their specific needs. From there his team developed the Alabama RISE Program to train local residents with learning disabilities and connect them with employers. He also met with K-12 educators throughout the region to identify candidates for the program and develop partnerships to continue their education. For younger students with disabilities, this program provides a path to develop skills and enter the workforce.

Since these initial conversations in 2021, the Alabama RISE Program has proven that the concept works. It has been awarded the AlabamaWorks! Innovator Award as a best practice for work-based learning. When they presented the idea to the Alabama Community College System, the organization raved about the program and pledged support to expand it. Alabama RISE has already inspired similar initiatives at other community colleges. Dr. Kelley sees the potential for the program to be a model that works more broadly and reaches other underserved communities.

Recently, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians provided a grant to help Dr. Kelley and LBW expand the program. While the Tribe operates businesses in many of the categories that the program targets, what attracted them to this opportunity was the mission. It all started with the notion that every person deserves a purpose. While there is certainly a return on investment for companies that employ disabled students who complete the RISE program, the simple and powerful idea of giving a person purpose in the world is the real success.

Alabama RISE wants to emphasize someone’s abilities rather than their disabilities. They want to normalize the idea that college is for everyone. Ultimately, they want to create pathways to economic freedom for people with disabilities. Before this program started, tens of thousands of people in the area served by the college had all but accepted the fact that there was a ceiling on their potential. Now, those same people have access to education that will result in a degree or certificate and a real, sustainable career.

The Tribe looks forward to seeing its investment produce returns by giving more people purpose and helping to grow the local economies served by the LBW Community College. As the program grows, the Tribe’s businesses can provide critical insights to help customize the program to serve the needs of more employers. We also look forward to seeing how many other programs are inspired by Dr. Kelley’s vision and how other underserved communities could be positively impacted.