Those interested in participating in the LAUNCH program may call the Bethlehem Center at 266-1384, ext. 26.

Officials at the Bethlehem Center want people to know that they have a job skills program that accepts everyone and guarantees a work assignment and at least two weeks' pay.

"Nothing is required except commitment," said the Rev. Lurone "Coach" Jennings, the center's executive director. "Whosoever will, let him come."

Jennings and Hal Bowling developed the Leadership Assets for Urban Neighborhood Change and Healing, or LAUNCH, program to send people from their present situations into new opportunities, Jennings said.

The program graduated its first 13 students this month. A new class starts in June at the center, a nonprofit community center in Alton Park founded by the United Methodist Church.

"We want the employer to hire them," Jennings said. "If the employer has a need, we hope they'll keep them. But if not, we hope the employer will at least be a reference. We're just trying to get them in the door."

Money for the center and its programs comes through donations from businesses, corporations and area churches, Jennings said.

Graduate Nicholas Roberson said he appreciates having so many mentors around him.

"It's all positive people," he said. "They're going to lead you in the right way."

The LAUNCH program is a Christian-based job skills initiative that lasts about four weeks, with four hours of training per week. Leadership training focuses on eight values including intimacy with God, passion for people, visionary leadership, culturally relevant communication, multiplication of leaders, family priority, good stewardship and integrity.

"We focus on the person, not just the job," Jennings said.

Exemplifying the eight values makes employers see participants as people in whom they can invest, he said.

LAUNCH graduates get job contacts, a job recommendation and work experience to put on their resumes. Even if an employer doesn't hire a graduate, the Bethlehem Center will pay a graduate to work from two to six weeks, officials said.

If an applicant has no general educational development certificate, the Bethlehem Center tries to help them get one, Jennings said. If a participant has a criminal record, the center will be their advocate to any potential employer, he said.

"Even if they have some legal issues, we try to help them," Jennings said.

Potential employees get minimum wage for two weeks for 40 hours a week, Jennings said. The Bethlehem Center provides the pay to give the graduate work experience and give the employer an opportunity to know the potential employee.

"It's a jump-start to give them some encouragement," Jennings said. "We hope some of those job placements that we make can turn into permanent jobs."

Of the 13 people who graduated this month, Walter Early got a job working in Knoxville. Marlon Jones had a job interview Thursday with a construction company Thursday.

Jones said he appreciates the teaching about values as much as he does the job training.

"I never had values in my life," he said. "So the eight values that Coach taught us, I try to use them to take my life in a different direction."