“As I live my life, I will view every challenge as an opportunity to: Set goals, Build character, Gain knowledge, Maintain balance, Demonstrate perseverance, Broaden my perspective, and Invest in my community. Through this process, I am being transformed into a Self sufficient, contributing member of society! When I say “Youth”, you say “Build”, YOUTH BUILD! YOUTH BUILD! YOUTH BUILD!”
In 1978, Dorothy Stoneman, along with a team of young people eager to improve their community, founded YouthBuild in East Harlem, New York. Stoneman, now CEO of YouthBuild USA, Inc, is a civil rights activist, a schoolteacher, and an organizer of parent-controlled community-based school programs. Sensitive that kids in her neighborhood wanted change but did not have the means to make that change, and familiar with the power of youth movements, she started small, with local kids and a local organization. “If we could get the money,” she asked, “what’s the most important thing you need for your community?” With suggestions from local youth, and over a period of ten years, Stoneman generated the necessary support to rebuild abandoned buildings, construct community gardens, refurbish local parks, establish youth patrols in high-crime areas, and even develop a ‘home away from home’ for teenage mothers.
Through organizing as a group, appearing in front of government agencies, earning the respect of political and business professionals, in addition to hands-on construction experience, students learn invaluable lessons.
…We have the capacity to help young people succeed. Instead, we send kids to prison for non-violent crimes. Why, when we can navigate them away from criminal behavior and offer them the support they need to make it through school while surviving poverty-level lives.”
YouthBuild participants learn through building, earning the respect of their communities and generating self-confidence along with a real desire to succeed in life—a transformational experience for these kids.
YouthBuild USA, Inc., funded by the Department of Labor, assists low-income, unemployed, high school dropouts between the ages of 16-21 to complete their education, gain employable skills, and become active community participants. There are now 243 programs in 46 states, all partly funded through federal appropriation and associated with a variety of broader efforts. One example is the Community Services Consortium (CSC), which serves three counties in Oregon: Linn, Benton, and Lincoln. This public, non-profit organization is dedicated to ending poverty in Oregon through education. The CSC YouthBuild Program is designed to provide apprentice-like programs for young men and women, ages 18-21. According to the CSC website, “learning takes place in both the classroom, where students earn their high school diplomas or GEDs, and in the field, where students gain construction skills and work experience by building, repairing, or renovating houses for low-income families.”
Serving up to 21 youth in a calendar year, the small staff at YouthBuild is busy. According to program coordinator and teacher, Armand Schoppy, this six-month to two-year development program is “thorough:” in addition to education and training, students are expected to serve on a Youth Advisory Committee as well as perform volunteer activities in support of local nonprofit groups. Students receive incentive pay based on their attendance and ‘ten positive indicators of their performance’ at work. To get their weekly stipend, students must show up for work at least 80% of the week on time, be dressed appropriately, and have a positive attitude. Students may earn monetary education awards, offered through the AmeriCorp program, which can be used towards further training at a trade school, community college, or towards any future educational venture.
Dennis Feeney runs the Weatherization Training Center, in Corvallis, OR where students and local contractors learn the importance of home energy efficiency and conservation, as well as HVAC installation. Feeney’s shop can train up to 24 people using the latest diagnostic tools and technology designed to simulate a variety of home environments. A portable unit is also available for the training team to take to remote areas in Oregon to offer weatherization training to residents who don’t have access to this valuable information. Dennis is proud of the program and how it fosters a relationship between students and employers: by offering courses to students and local contractors, Feeney promotes a unique networking opportunity. One recent student was hired by a local HVAC company also attending the class. “They really hit it off,” Feeney laughed, “by the end of the training workshop, the student was offered a job.”
Nevin Gilkes, currently enrolled in YouthBuild, speaks highly of the program. Nevin was headed down the wrong path; he knew he needed to make a big change. He heard about YouthBuild from a past student and applied to the program. After a brief trial period, Gilkes was accepted and now appreciates the teacher support and the importance of educating himself for a better future. One of his favorite courses, Sealing Ductwork—taught by Dennis Feeney, exemplifies the effectiveness of YouthBuild: “I was able to take the knowledge and skills I gained from the class and apply that information to improve the very home I was living in. The teachers and the classes really helped me find a purpose in life. I have a sense of direction now,” comments Nevin. “When I finish here, I’m going to pursue work in the HVAC field.”
Dave Petts, the Senior Crew leader, has worked on a variety of projects with YouthBuild students. Using a mobile trailer full of tools, some bought and some supplied through multiple funding sources, Dave searches for work in local neighborhoods. Dave is responsible for finding work for the students—”heartfelt work”—as Dave calls it: “projects that actually benefit the community. We often assist homeowners who aren’t financially able to fix their houses.” In 2014, the students assisted with the building of a house from foundation to finish, in partnership with Hayden Homes, a construction company from Albany, OR. Currently, the students are working with Habitat for Humanity on the building of two homes in Lebanon, OR.
Besides providing students with requisite hours of skills training, teachers are also responsible for helping students obtain the required educational hours each week. Along with working to obtain their Graduate Equivalency Degree (GED), many students have other needs that the teachers are there to help them with. Some students need help putting together their resume to gain employment, studying to get a food service permit, driver’s license, or work permit. “A strong emphasis is put on career development,” says Mr. Schoppy. “We want these students to leave YouthBuild not just ready, but prepared and eager for the transition from our program into employment, college, or a vocational training program.”
Bri Housworth has also benefitted from the focus on education while finding immediate use for the tradecraft: “I have a new awareness of home ownership. In fact, like Nevin, I took what I learned from the duct sealing course and helped improve my grandmother’s HVAC system.”
Although she doesn’t see herself in the construction field, she is eager to find employment, for which the YouthBuild team is helping her prepare.
“The students in the program shine because of the importance that is placed on preparation for employability,” says Dennis Feeney. “Students are taught constantly the importance of being respectful, reliable, and hard-working. We often have local contractors calling our office, wanting to interview students in our program.”
Even with trackable results, YouthBuild fights for funding. The directors and staff at CSC YouthBuild spend uncountable hours and energy struggling for financial support. Maybe there is something you can do to help?