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45 years ago in Harlem, N.Y. a woman saw young people standing around on street corners and near abandoned buildings day after day doing nothing. She asked them, “If you could do anything to get yourself on track, what would it be?” They said they would fix up the houses and make it so young people could live in them.
That woman, Dorothy Stoneman, went on to found YouthBuild, a program that works with young people 16 to 24, helping them earn high school diplomas or equivalencies while learning job skills and improving their communities.
Today there are 275 YouthBuild sites across the country, as well as the world, including a facility in Louisville, where KET caught up with some of its teachers and students for the nationally broadcast series, Dropping Back In. You can view the entire series online at droppingbackin.org.
YouthBuild’s model is designed to help young people focus on three key aspects of life: social, academic and vocational.
Strong services are provided to help place them in jobs, college or both.
“[Students] come trying to make changes,” said Judy Kasey, a Student Services Coordinator for Louisville YouthBuild, “While they are here we work with them to have better relationships. We work to show parenting skills. We try to integrate it all together so that you just assimilate it and it becomes part of what you do.”
YouthBuild teaches everything from general work ethic to how to excel in unique job positions.
“YouthBuild has taught me math, English skills and writing,” said alumnus James Hooten, “Those things I use daily. Those skills have put me ahead of the curve with business owners as well.”
The program provides instruction in various types of carpentry, plumbing and electrical skills and blends those with developing life skills, mentoring and friendship.
Many of the students haven’t had the support structure in place to be encouraged to continue their education. Many were either asked to leave school or told so many times that they wouldn’t go anywhere that they dropped out. YouthBuild tells them they can succeed in life and that they can make it happen.
As another incentive, YouthBuild students who complete 675 hours of service in the program receive a college scholarship.
“Over time they start developing this sense of ‘I can do,’” said Kasey, “then, over time they start developing a greater sense of hope; a greater sense that they don’t have to give up on themselves.”
Kasey says these youths need opportunities to demonstrate that they are smart and able to achieve; that they are able to be the people that they want to be. YouthBuild’s mission is to help them get there.