Meet LaDante Weems—a formerly incarcerated youth and now graduate of the AJAC Juvenile Rehabilitation Manufacturing Academy program—tells his story on becoming a full-time employee at Tech Marine. We at AJAC are so proud of how far LaDante has come since his incarnation and wish him nothing but continued success in his future.

AJAC is launching a new Manufacturing Academy program in Federal Way through a partnership with the Federal Way Boys & Girls Club, Truman High School and a grant from Aspen Institute’s Pathways to Careers Fund. The Manufacturing Academy (MA) is an apprenticeship preparation program that has been offered in South Seattle and Kent prior to this latest addition.

Boys and Girls Club Youth Force Executive Director Melissa Jones is excited about the partnership and the prospects that come with it. “We believe positive youth development is a collective effort that cannot be solved by a single person, organization or company alone. That’s why it’s imperative to collaborate with others in our community to provide comprehensive programming and employment opportunities for our youth.” When asked what the goal of the new initiative is, Jones says, “Our hope is to provide an alternative career path allowing youth who choose not to pursue higher education the ability to earn a living wage.”

The Manufacturing Academy’s purpose is to give students the information, skills, and certifications needed to begin their careers in advanced manufacturing. Derek Jones, the instructor for the course, says the class is a great opportunity to give your resume the boost it needs, “The hardest part about starting a new career is getting your foot in the door. The Manufacturing Academy gives people who are willing to learn a real opportunity to change their lives.”

The newest MA addition in Federal Way will allow its students to gain access to machinery and equipment used in the industry while developing industry skills in blueprint reading, precision measurement, soldering, LEAN manufacturing, and resume development.
Chris Pierson, Director of Grants and Strategic Partnerships with AJAC, says the expansion to Federal Way is a fantastic way to cultivate growth. “AJAC is committed to diversifying talent pipelines to our employer partners and developing more equitable pathways into apprenticeship. We have been working with all of our partners to strengthen pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship pathways for youth through initiatives such as Generation Work, Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship, and other related initiatives.”

The first cohort started class, January 13, 2020, with 15 students enrolled.

Meet Heather Collins, AJAC new Regional Program Manager for central Washington State. Heather comes to AJAC with a breadth of experience in program and business development including work in the K-12 education system. Get to know Heather as she helps expand apprenticeship opportunities in our rural communities.

What is your favorite part about working in the non-profit industry?

I like working for places that help other people and my community. I am excited to be creating opportunities and helping people in their career goals.

 What will your new role at AJAC include?

I will be the Regional Program Manager for the Central Washington area. I am based out of Yakima, and will be making sure current apprenticeships are running smoothly and helping the team develop more apprenticeships in Central Washington down the road.

Which celebrity do you get mistaken for?

Quite a few people have told me I look a lot like Alyson Hannigan. I really enjoy her on “How I Met Your Mother,” but I don’t see the resemblance at all!

What was your dream job growing up?

When I was a kid, my family took a few trips to a fossil site and we got to dig fossils. My dream job for a while was to be an archaeologist.

If You Could Travel Anywhere In The World, Where Would It Be?

Traveling is one of my favorite hobbies, so this is a difficult question for me. Right now the places at the top of my list are Bali, Costa Rica, and Japan.

Selene Castro is no stranger to adversity. She has been fighting an uphill battle for years and while some would crumble under the pressure, it is has left her strong and more determined than ever.

Castro grew up in the Seattle area; she moved from the Central District to Rainer Valley and attended Franklin High School. “Manufacturing wasn’t something I ever thought about. After high school, I worked in health care for a long time.” However, Castro would fall victim to an all too common narrative and became addicted to prescription drugs.

“I had fibroids, (which is a non-cancerous tumor that grows inside your uterus) which were extremely painful. I bled a lot and ended up being anemic. So, the doctors ended up giving me painkillers,” Castro added, “At first, I took the medication for what it was prescribed for. I would go get the prescription twice a year but then it got to the point where I would keep needing it more. Because of my addiction, I ended up getting fired from my job.”

Castro was let go from a job that she had for almost 15 years, which would be a tough position for anyone, but she was an addict, she needed to numb her pain. She explains, “Once I lost my job, my addiction got worse. It went from taking those pills here and there, to needing them to wake up, I needed them to function throughout the day—it was a 24-hour commitment.”

Castro needed money to fuel her addiction and wound up getting in trouble with the law. Instead of spending a year in prison, she enrolled in The Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA). DOSA involves a 3-month rehabilitation, which Selene says played a huge factor in her recovery.



When Castro went home, she continued her DOSA program with outpatient care, however, she was scared of falling back into her old habits. “I was scared to get a job and meet people that were in the closet addicts, I didn’t want my routines to be normal or get into anything that could be a trigger.”

Pursuing a career in healthcare was no longer an option, but Castro needed a job to help support her family. She reached out to a local social enterprise company, Pioneer Services, in Seattle, whose mission is to provide individuals with criminal histories the opportunity to lead healthy, productive lives.

After speaking with the manager at the Pioneer Manufacturing Facility in Seattle, Castro was encouraged by what she heard, “The manager said he was in prison since he was a teenager, for 25-years, and when he got out, he couldn’t get a job. He said he didn’t know how to work on anything in the plant [when he started]. So, he took me around and showed me all the different machines and it was like, ‘Oh, I like these things, something to keep my mind busy. I like working with my hands and trying to figure things out, maybe I’ll try this.’”

Castro learned about AJAC’s Manufacturing Academy through her case manager and decided to start her journey towards her new career. She got a part-time job to supplement her income and started the program in October 2019.

She came into the program with little background knowledge, “I know so much more then I knew when I came here, I learned so much. I knew how to read blueprints but I had no clue about the math behind it all.”

She pushed herself in class and learned about CNC and manual machines, how to operate a forklift and understand lean manufacturing. Her instructor Aleksandr Derlyuk had high-praise of Selene from the first day, “I was amazed at the perseverance and growth that Selene has shown throughout the program.”

Derlyuk hopes that other people can be inspired by Selene’s story, “Someone like Selene proves that the Manufacturing Academy has the ability to change someone’s life trajectory in a major way.”

Now that she graduated from the Manufacturing Academy, Selene is looking to further her education at South Seattle College where she will pursue CNC Programming. She hopes this step will lead her to an apprenticeship opportunity with AJAC and is excited to start a less tumultuous next chapter in her life.

Below are the new grants AJAC has been awarded over the last 3 months and the partnerships we have forged with local and national organizations.

City of Seattle Office of Economic Development: AJAC partnered with the Seattle Public Schools Skills Center and South Seattle College in a successful application to the City of Seattle for resources that will support AJAC youth apprentices at the Seattle Skills Center at Rainier Beach High School, and to promote CTE, pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship pathways to Seattle high school students.

National Fund for Workforce Solutions: AJAC partnered with the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County in a successful application for a two-year $125,000 On-the-Job Training grant from the National Fund. The OJT grant provides a wage supplement for up to 50% of the first 200 hours of training to companies who hire MA completers and put them directly into apprenticeship, with a focus on women, people of color, veterans and opportunity youth.

Women in Apprenticeship and Non-Traditional Occupations (WANTO): AJAC partnered with the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership in a successful application to the US Department of Labor for a 1-year WANTO grant focused on promoting pre-apprenticeship programs and apprenticeship pathways to women. Through the grant, WRTP will support a multi-state initiative focused on improving women enrollments into/persistence in apprenticeship programs, providing $75,000 to AJAC in support of these efforts.

Career Connect Washington Intermediary Grants: AJAC successfully partnered on two CCW applications with the South Central Workforce Council and Spokane Workforce Council. The SCWC grant will support a Central Washington apprenticeship coordinator conducting joint business outreach with SCWC staff and building AJAC program capacity across South and North Central Washington. It will also support curriculum development efforts focused on identifying at least 1 new occupation for food processing/ agricultural companies (who are making up an increasingly larger share of training agent partners in this region). The Spokane grant focuses on building business engagement and youth apprenticeship program capacity across the Spokane region.