PARIS, Ill. (WCIA) — Dozens of students in Edgar and Clark Counties have been introduced to career opportunities through ECCEL Academy.

The idea for ECCEL formed about three years ago. It stands for Edgar Clark Career Exploration.

“We felt that we had a lot of opportunities here for our studentsm and for people returning back to the area, and we just needed to create some awareness,” says Terry Elston. Elston helped form ECCEL and is on the program’s committee.

Students who participate in ECCEL visit dozens of businesses and hear from company leaders. Ethan Graham just graduated from Paris High School

“I went to a bunch of businesses that I didn’t know were around the area — I mean I didn’t know the opportunities that we had here in town because everybody always says – ‘you wanna get out, you wanna go make more money, there’s nothing here’ – which there really is a lot here,” says Graham.

Two groups of students have gone through ECCEL Academy — about 50 students total. Some of them have found jobs by networking through the program.

“We’ve had a lot of students that thought they knew what they wanted to do and then being part of this program, they changed directions — and I figure save themselves thousands of dollars by not having to take classes maybe in college that weren’t gonna pan out for them … It’s a very broad ranging program and it’s highly adaptable and so we’re able to talk to the kids, see what their interest is. One girl wanted to be a baker so we arranged a trip to a bakery,” says Elston.

The COVID-19 pandemic slowed down ECCEL Academy in the spring but they’re making adjustments so they can still serve students this upcoming school year.

“We’ll be going into our third year and of course with COVID it’s gonna be, ya know, we’re gonna be doing a lot of Zoom meetings and those types of things – so it will take on a little bit different context but we’re gonna get very creative,” says Elston.

Elston says ECCEL’s success is a testament to the community’s commitment to supporting its workforce. Meanwhile, for Graham, it was a worthwhile way to learn more about his future options and the businesses that thrive in Our Town Paris.

For more information on ECCEL Academy, click here.