Students in the apprentice HERco program in Muskegon.
MUSKEGON, Mich. (WZZM) -- A businesswoman wants people in Muskegon to know there is a way out of the life of crime or poverty -- people just have to "want in."
HERco, short for "Her Company," is a premier apprentice group that is taking people off the streets and putting them in classrooms and jobs.
Two of the apprentices in the HERco program are Steve Herbert Jr. and Lamond Alston. They are receiving $16 - $20 an hour for their work in dismantling the former Sappi Fine Paper mill in Muskegon. They say it's dirty, sweaty work -- but they're glad to be doing it.
"My first check today," says Herbert. "My first union paycheck."
Alston had a more challenging road to his new job. Earlier this year, he was released from prison after serving nearly 16 years in prison.
"I'm very proud of myself right now," says Alston. "I can tap myself on the back."
The men's mentor is Phyllis Watson-Loudermill, owner of HERco. She says her apprenticeship program is not easy -- and it's not meant to be.
"This is different," she says. "It's almost like being incarcerated in some ways."
All the students in the program - men and women alike - wear pink polo-style shirts. Anyone who wants a general education development (GED) diploma and training in skilled labor is enrolled at Muskegon Community College. With the help of grant money, the student will learn and receive certification in fields like energy conservation and road construction.
Members of the program will learn trades along with life skills, such as how to dress professionally and manage money.
"There is no room for error," says Watson-Loudermill. "Not even the bus not being on time."
Alston says after all the time he spent in prison, it's behind the bars of the old Sappi mill where he's found the most freedom.
Watson-Loudermill says the apprentice program is open to anyone who wants to change his or her life.