Going to school and getting an education is a dream for many but sometimes that dream can feel unachievable due to lack of funding. Luckily for those with an ag background, there's a non-profit program called Rural Employment Opportunities (REO) that provides services to low-income adults and children with funding from a variety of federal and state grants.
A direct grant funds the program through the Federal Department of Labor called the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP). The goal is to help farm, ranch, and other agricultural workers who earn a wage but still don’t make enough to support themselves and their families, helping them determine the best way to reach their educational and employment goals.
Participants may choose to attend a vocational, technical or trade school for short-term job training, enter a work-related college program, or participate in an on-the-job training program or apprenticeship.
“We are able to help agriculture workers whether it's training or employment or a combination of both,” explained Lacey Reinhardt, an REO Program Specialist. “We love for people to stay in agriculture but that isn’t a requirement. Anything to support them getting into a different field, or support them with the farm and ranch work that they are already doing.”
Cristen Riffel, a recent graduate of Miles Community College, was a participant in the program. She received assistance through all four years of her educational journey.
“I decided at a really young age that I wanted to go to college, and I didn't come from a family that had a big trust sitting there for me or any kind of help when it came to school. And so, I knew I'd have to pay for it by myself. So, any scholarship, I was chasing them hard.”
She was introduced to the program while attending an MSU-Northern open house back in 2019.
Having worked on cattle ranches in north-central Montana, she was a perfect candidate. Now, she and her husband live on a ranch near Hysham in southeastern Montana where they hope to put her business degree to good use.
“I feel that having the support from not only the program but specialists like Lacey was a huge motivator for me to finish my schooling. The program for me was so much more than a scholarship,” Cristen explained while staring at the freshly-cut wheat field behind her. “I think a lot of agriculture kids think the best thing to do is like just stay on the ranch or stay on the farm or just keep going because they don't necessarily see that they have the funding for college. REO is just there to help with any kind of trade school or any kind of like certificate you want to chase after.”