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Ruth Hawkins had been out of school 40 years when she divorced. She needed to support herself but found employers didn't want to hire someone who was 62. Those who didn't care about her age were appalled by her lack of computer literacy.

Enter the Job Training Partnership Act. Hawkins returned to school for computer classes. Today she works at Valley Parts in North Ogden, where she is the office clerk, cashier, gofer, parts chaser and inventory tracker. Soon, she'll be building a computer program for her employer.The Job Training Partnership Act helps low-income, older and displaced workers carve a new niche in the work force. In the statewide, county-administered program, workers can receive education and on-the-job training. While they are training, employers pay half their salaries. Companies that retain them can get up to $2,400 tax credit, said Stephanie Tripp of the State Job Training Coordinating Council.

During an awards ceremony at Lagoon Wednesday, Tripp lauded Utah's work force as "outstanding," citing its youth, education level and strong work ethic.

Lt. Gov. Olene Walker said a task force is looking at work force development. "This administration is committed to multiplying these success stories time and time again."

During the past two years, 6,845 Utahns found jobs through the program. In turn, Utah saved $10 million not paid out as welfare grants and gained $4 million brought in from taxes.

Hawkins and eight other JTPA workers from around the state were honored:.

- Merlin Reeder refers to JTPA as a "miracle." He left a teaching job to enter the business world but was laid off after a decade. At 59, he was without a career and his teaching certificate had lapsed. JTPA sponsored him for the 16 credit hours needed to be recertified. Last year he was a full-time substitute teacher. When school opens, he will teach full time at Churchill Junior High School.

- Marilyn Titus left school at 16. She got back in through another program that forced her into secretarial work. In the meantime, she was addicted to alcohol and drugs, pregnant and then divorced. The sight of her premature baby in an incubator sobered her. Through JTPA, she learned laser graphics and now works in desktop publishing. She's been sober four years.

- Denise Swanger was a junior in college, a single parent on public assistance, when she went to JTPA. Her math skills were low so her counselor helped her get a class and a private tutor. Today, she has a bachelor's degree in social work and criminal justice and works for the Head Start program.

- Teresa Salais ran away when she was 12. She dropped out of school in eighth grade and was on her own at 14. At 17, she was pregnant and looking for a way to support her child. She has been employed at Continental Airlines for more than a year. "Now other people are proud of me, too," she said.

- Gary Lesher returned to Utah from California to set up a business. It didn't pan out. He couldn't afford school when he was younger; now he wanted to drive a truck. Through JTPA, he was able to take the specialized course and got a job. He saved money to buy his own truck and "I work for myself. It's a miracle."

- Nancy Papineau left school 18 years ago to "find myself." What she found were minimum-wage jobs tending bar, clerking or waitressing. After divorcing, she returned to school via JTPA. Today she is a psychiatric nurse at University Hospital who is most grateful to the program for its emotional support. "Life is good and then it gets better."

- Newly divorced Sheri Richards tried to support her family by working at a gas station. What she really wanted to be was a machinist, and JTPA made it possible, she said, by helping her through "sick kids, hurt kids and trigonometry."

- The final honoree, Jeanne Logan, quit high school, got married and had four children. Then she divorced. She drove a school bus and was a nurse's aide. When she was 25, she got her GED. It wasn't enough. A friend persuaded her to become a nurse, but money ran out. JTPA stepped in. Logan is a licensed nurse and next month will take her exam to become a registered nurse.

For information on JTPA, call 538-8769 or 468-3247.