While Clark County enjoys a booming economy and an expanding job market, it’s also home to a growing population of teens and young adults who are out of school or unemployed, and thus are disconnected from many benefits they might otherwise receive.
One of those benefits is C-Tran’s Youth Opportunity Pass, a free yearlong bus pass available to all middle and high school students enrolled in certain schools. The pass is valued at more than $300 and offers students unlimited access to C-Tran’s local service. Some Vancouver students can also get free access to the Firstenburg and Marshall/Luepke community centers.
But if teens are not in school, they don’t qualify for the pass.
Now, C-Tran is working with Workforce Southwest Washington to get those passes into the hands of teens, who might be among the most in need, by collaborating with Workforce Southwest Washington’s Next program.
Workforce operates Next, an employment and educational opportunity center designed to help youth between the ages of 16 and 24 get their lives on track and enter the job market. C-Tran is planning to offer teens participating in Next programming the same passes traditional students receive.
“They should be afforded the same opportunities anybody of that age group would be getting trying to better themselves,” said Bart Hansen, Vancouver city councilor and C-Tran director. “We want to be there, helping them, side-by-side if that’s what they’re trying to achieve.”
Hansen was the board member who originally pushed for the creation of the pass and is now leading the charge for the extension to teens in Next. The C-Tran Board of Directors will take up the issue Tuesday during its regular meeting.
If it’s approved, an estimated 200 teens will get access to the pass.
Currently, middle and high school students in the Vancouver, Evergreen, Battle Ground, Camas and Washougal school districts, the Washington State School for the Blind and the Washington School for the Deaf are eligible for the pass.
“Obviously, there are participants in that age range that if in school, they would qualify for the youth opportunity pass,” said Christine Selk, C-Tran spokeswoman. “We’re extending the pass to those who are 16 to 18 years old.”
The pass is commonly referred to as “the apple pass” because the pass itself is actually a sticker with an apple printed on it that is placed on the student’s identification card. In order to get one, students and their parents or guardians must complete a consent form.
Selk said teens who get their passes through Next would have to do the same, and would need some kind of Next-issued identification card to place the sticker on.
“It’s a huge step forward,” said Miriam Martin, program director of Workforce Southwest Washington. “When you have a number of community partners committed to the same vision, it’s a way to get things done.”
Next has been in operation for about a month, but it’s having a grand opening for its new offices at 5 p.m. today at Stonemill Center, 120 N.E. 136th Ave., Suite 130, Vancouver.
The program helps participants get their high school diploma, and offers tuition assistance and financial and direct connections to local educational institutions. For job seekers, it offers career mentorship events, apprenticeship registration and help landing internships. Youth can also just grab a snack, take a shower and enroll in classes that teach a healthy lifestyle.
In May, near the end of the last school year, C-Tran gave more than 22,400 rides to students with the Youth Opportunity Pass. That number doesn’t include those who rode The Vine. There’s no way for C-Tran to count those student riders because it relies on a different payment system than the rest of the system.