MADISON, Wis. -

A new initiative aims to help Madison students stay on the right path and graduate from high school.

For decades Operation Fresh Start has been helping young people gain work experience and job skills. Now they want to help more make academic gains.

At a press conference Thursday, leaders from Operation Fresh Start and program participants announced their new Options Program.

"Options will work through hands on engagement. We'll be going into the community hosting neighborhood meetings, meeting folks at churches and libraries and neighborhood centers, in probation and parole offices...wherever young people who have dropped out are we will be there meeting them and saying 'hey, you have some possibilities,'" says Executive Director Greg Markle.

The program is being financed by a grant through the Madison Community Foundation, says Markle. The goal is to reach out to more young people, ages16 to 24, to find out why they haven't completed high school.

"Just in Madison there are 400 people each year who haven't completed high school in four years. Our goal is bring an additional 100 people back into some sort of educational setting and in that one year to graduate at least 60 percent of them,” Markle says.

"Since I joined the program everything is looking much brighter to me. It's like putting on a new pair of glasses," says current program participant Marcus Hamilton.

Participants leave the program with work experience and job skills that can translate into various careers.

"It's a very good program. It really taught me a lot and got me to where I wanted to be," says Venashia Anthony who graduated from the program. She's now working at the new Hyvee on Madison's West Side.

The Human Resources Manager Tressa Graham says Venashia was one of many who applied to work at the store.

"It's really important that we find the people in the community that have that knowledge and training and can jump right in and get on the job training," says Graham.

Markle says each high school dropout costs the community more than $250,000 in their lifetime.

By identifying the barriers that kept people from graduating, Markle says they can connect them with resources to get them in a program that fits their needs.

"I'm very thankful for the opportunities I've been given.The support from all the staff has kept me going, even when I thought I couldn't achieve," says current Fresh Start participant Sam Schmidtke.

Schmidtke and Hamilton say they're excited to have completed high school and are looking forward to their futures in college.

"I believe that the options program will help a lot more people like me,” says Hamilton.

Graduates of Operation Fresh Start will act as ambassadors, motivating their peers to complete their education. They'll also be working with the Madison Metropolitan School District to identify students who could benefit from the program.