LearningWorks, a Portland nonprofit that works with at-risk youth, received a $350,000 grant Wednesday from the state Department of Corrections and Department of Labor.

The grant will fund the group’s Youth Building Alternatives program, which seeks to improve the reading, math and employment skills for at-risk young people between the ages of 16-24 who have dropped out of school. The program has enrolled 65 participants in each of two training cycles.

LearningWorks Executive Director Ethan Strimling said the program has a 91 percent retention rate and that 85 percent of the students have received a high school equivalence degree and that 91 percent of its students have gone on to higher education or entered the workforce.

Gov. Paul LePage and DOC Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick were in Portland on Wednesday for a news conference to announce the grant.

LePage referred to his difficult childhood, which included leaving home at the age of 11 to escape his abusive, alcoholic father before being taken in by a surrogate family, graduating from Husson College and becoming governor. He applauded the program that requires students to help themselves.

“I could have easily been in front of many of the state judges taking some advice from them, but now I appoint those judges,” LePage said. “That’s the difference between learning and not learning.”

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