By Becky Spaulding
YouthBuild, a program that partners Grand Rapids Community College, Habitat for Humanity of Kent County and Bethany Christian Services to help prepare would-be troubled youth for their future, was awarded a $1 million grant this month by the U.S. Department of Labor.
“YouthBuild helps young people who might otherwise slip through the cracks gain the educational and occupational skills that are necessary for a successful future,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, in a recent press release. “At the same time, these youngsters make valuable contributions to their neighborhoods through community service projects and the construction or renovation of affordable housing.”
Initially, Grand Rapids Community College, through the Leslie E. Tassell M-TEC program, provided staff to Habitat for Humanity of Kent County for YouthBuild for GED completion and a 36-week building trades program. There are some changes to the program that will be announced in the near future, however, according to Construction Trades Manager Brian Shultz.
Habitat for Humanity pays GRCC the tuition necessary to allow them to take construction training courses, and the grant will allow them to continue this practice.
GRCC and Habitat for Humanity of Kent County had a working relationship even before the YouthBuild program began.
“Habitat has had a partnership with GRCC’s Tassell M-TEC for about six years and it has been a growing success ever since its start,” said Jessica Anderson, Data and Communications Coordinator at Habitat for Humanity of Kent County. “Construction students work hands-on at a Habitat site alongside certified instructors and Habitat staff learning cutting edge green building skills that will most definitely give them a leg up when entering the job market.
“Each interaction with the GRCC students in our current job training partnership has been such a blessing for Habitat,” she added.
“To hear their stories, feed off of their enthusiasm for learning, and realize that this could be a life-altering experience for them if what drives the continuation of this partnership.”
YouthBuild USA prides itself on using a comprehensive approach, according to their website.
They offer schooling, community service opportunities, leadership training, development programs, and what they call a “mini-community,” where young people can create bonds with others that are committed to a similar, positive, goal.
There are 273 YouthBuild programs in the United States.
The Grand Rapids YouthBuild program is one of 31 programs in 20 states that were each awarded grants to continue what they are doing, and is the only program in Michigan to receive the award.
The YouthBuild USA programs are designed to assist low-income, disadvantaged and at-risk youth, ages 16-24, in preparing to get their GEDs or diplomas, serve their communities, and to teach them job skills for the future.
The program hopes to allow these youth to “transform their own lives and roles in society.”
Habitat for Humanity of Kent County hosts the YouthBuild program. They choose the sites and families who will receive the homes that the youths will learn how to build.
“Since all Habitat Kent homes are built to LEED Certification, students have the unique opportunity to work on a LEED Certified project, an opportunity that not many are able to access,” Anderson said.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certified houses use less energy, water, and carbon dioxide than a normal house would, leaving far smaller utility bills for the owners.
“Students range from those fresh out of high school, excited to build towards their first career, to mature adults who have been faced with the need or desire to change career paths later in life,” Anderson said. “The students also get to work alongside the Habitat homebuyer who they are building the home for, and learn firsthand the story of how this home will greatly impact the life of the family.
“Therefore, this partnership not only offers incredibly valuable job training skills, but also a service learning opportunity that teaches students the importance of putting their time, energies, and talents back into the community they live in.”
With Grand Rapids’ program, youths — including those exiting foster care, homeless youth settlements, and juvenile justice, will go through a 42-week program, followed by 12 months of support, follow-up and outcome tracking by Bethany Christian Services.
The program includes a two week orientation, which includes a “mental toughness” module, a 36-week education and construction program, working 18 weeks in a classroom and 18 on a construction site, and four weeks of employability and job readiness training.
The job readiness training includes job internships, youth development, civic engagement, job shadowing, apprenticeships, and eventually job placement.
GRCC staff is able to work closely with the students throughout this process, according to Shultz.
“Bethany Christian Services does their intake at the beginning, and helps with the placement at the end,” he said. “GRCC is able to work with them closely throughout, so we should get to see the fruits of our labor.”