The meaning of community

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When disaster strikes, we depend on a network of people surrounding us to help us get back on our feet. We've seen examples of this time and time again from widespread natural disasters to local families in need. Providing that support and pitching in with available resources is what being a part of a community is all about.

Early this year, the Lucky Friday mine in the Silver Valley was taken to its knees with the announcement of a major layoff of Hecla Mining Company employees working at the silver mine near Mullan. More than 180 employees were laid off when the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration closed the mine in January due to safety concerns stemming from the main mine shaft. Instantly unemployed, these individuals were now unable to provide for their families and faced leaving Idaho to take comparable positions in other states. Not to mention the potential $13 million blow to income in the Silver Valley projected over the course of the one-year mine closure. While not the tragedy most often associated with mining disasters, this news was devastating, nonetheless.

Fortunately, North Idaho College and other community agencies were poised to help. The Idaho Department of Labor sprang into action immediately, forming a Rapid Response Team, made up of community organizations positioned to help meet the needs of displaced workers when major layoffs strike local business and industry. North Idaho College participated in a resource fair held within weeks of the mine closure to collaborate and share information with those affected on everything from finances to health services to training and employment opportunities. The nimbleness of a community college put NIC in a key position to meet the education and training needs of the displaced workers. NIC's professional-technical and workforce training team customized a 16-week course to certify welders for reemployment at the Lucky Friday mine, helping make the federally mandated repairs to the mine shaft so the mine can reopen and jobs can return to the Silver Valley. Miners began classes in March and will receive training in flux core and shielded metal arc welding to prepare for American Welding Society (AWS) certification. And the best part: the training is available at no cost to these miners through a partnership with the Idaho Department of Labor, which utilized Workforce Investment Act funds for retraining employees.

What makes a community college unique is its ability to respond quickly to the changing needs of a community, whether through the creation of new programs to meet workforce demand or customized training opportunities for current business needs. North Idaho College, your community college, is here to prepare your children for future careers just as it's poised to retrain adults when tragedies like the Lucky Friday mine layoffs occur. The aspiration is for North Idaho workers to be able to stay in North Idaho with good-paying jobs that will support families and contribute to the economic vitality of the region. North Idaho College is proud to be one of the vital community partners working toward that goal.

Priscilla J. Bell is the president of North Idaho College. For comments on this column, email her at PresidentsColumn@NIC.EDU.

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