For teens raised in poverty, it is difficult to find opportunity -- or hope. YouthBuild, a job training youth development program, aims to address that by targeting those kids and providing them with education, hands-on training and informal counseling and mentoring.
For YouthBuild Fall River, the struggle is exacerbated for its teens, many of whom have to contend with homelessness or unstable households and the allure of gangs and the street, which leads some of them to drop out of high school altogether.
The organization's stimulus award from the Department of Labor of $1.1 million is enabling the agency in this South coast city to enroll two classes of 34 kids between the ages of 16 and 24 - all of whom have dropped out of high school. "If it wasn't for us, these kids would have nothing to do," says Terry Moran, coordinator of YouthBuild Fall River.
The agency also received another stimulus award through the Department of Labor -- a green capacity grant -- of $100,000 to develop a green building curriculum that is the basis of the training program. This means that these YouthBuild participants will also graduate the program with nationally recognized
credentials and twenty-first century skills. "We are prepping them for tomorrow's jobs," says Carmen Richardi, coordinator of the Green Venture, who was hired as part of the stimulus award. As part of the green program, Richardi is also starting a factory in the YouthBuild offices in Fall River to build energy panels and LED light bulbs. The factory will employ YouthBuild participants.
According to Moran, about a third of the youth who are participating in the YouthBuild program are homeless, either because their parents kicked them out of the house or they left. "They're just trying to survive," he says. YouthBuild is giving them the tools to do so.
The program involves classes towards a GED certificate, life skills courses and construction job training with a focus on "green" building techniques. The participants come to YouthBuild through word of mouth, social service agencies and sometimes the criminal justice system. "It's not uncommon for us to be at the courthouse," says Moran. "We are an alternative sentencing. For many of these kids, it's another chance."
A chance, he says, to get the necessary skills they need to create a life for themselves. "People don't realize the level of impact these programs have on our youth," Moran points out. "We can turn them into taxpayers. Otherwise, they are a drain on society. That is the reality."
As Moran notes, the YouthBuild participants he works with take tremendous pride
in their accomplishments. Nowhere is this more in evidence than at the site of YouthBuild Fall River's final project: building a house, part of YouthBuild Fall River's philosophy to learn by doing. The three-bedroom house will eventually go into the city's affordable housing program and as Paul Santos, a YouthBuild graduate who now works for the program, says, "Whoever gets this house is very lucky." He is referring not only to the workmanship but to the solar system that the YouthBuild crew is putting in which will provide 96 percent of the hot water for the house and nearly 50 percent of its heating.
The easy camaraderie and obvious support among the YouthBuild crew speaks to the family of sorts this group has created for itself. "You stay with these guys for a few hours, you leave a changed person," notes Richardi.
Change, it seems, is the big constant in this YouthBuild. "The beauty of YouthBuild is we look at the whole individual," says Moran. "This is not a quick fix. I don't want them just earning a GED. I want them to go to college."