HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Frederick Wright grew up in Hartford, raised by a single mother with four brothers.

A self-described troubled youth, he turned his life around after being accepted into the state’s youth employment program at Ebony Horsewomen, an equestrian therapeutic center, in Hartford at the age of 14.

“The barn saved my life,” he said.

It became an outlet away from gangs and drugs. There, he built long-term connections, prepared for a future career and got a paycheck.

“It definitely helped us with bills, school clothes, school books, school supplies,” Wright said. “I don’t know what my focus would have been if I hadn’t just been able to come in, go to work and bring home a paycheck and help Mom with the bills. It was life-changing for my family.”

The state-run program also connected Wright with his passion.

Now the 26-year-old runs Five Star Horseshoeing, and is expanding Ebony Horsewomen’s services by opening a Farrier school on their property. He said he’s able to give back to his community and show other teens a different route in life.

“My goal is to be a pillar in community to help bring some change,” he said.

Now, the state is hoping to connect more youth, particularly in underserved communities, with meaningful jobs. There are 2,500 job openings this summer for ages 14 to 24 with opportunities ranging from landscaping, to health care, to manufacturing.

In 2022, 500 employers participated in the program. It’s funded through the state and covers their salaries.

This year, wages start at $15 an hour and increase, depending on the position.

“The youth are able to earn a paycheck, they are able to learn a skill, develop an interest,” Danté Bartolomeo, the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Labor, said. “The employer has the employment subsidized, so it limits any risk.”

Princess Mason turned her youth employment into permanent work as a riding instructor.

She said the program helped her build professional and personal skills.

“It’s away from being on the streets and whatnot, it’s more of a home,” Mason said. “It’s given me countless opportunities. It’s really pushed me to being more educated, and empowering myself and others.”

The program had 9,000 applicants last year for the 2,500 job opportunities.

The Connecticut Department of Labor said to apply annually if you don’t get accepted the first year.

Youth ages 14 through 24 can apply online.