YouthBuild program gets students back on their feet

Instructor Kurt Kurtz (center) shows students in the YouthBuild program about measuring angles. From left to right is D’Vonte Ashford, George Howard and Aaron Rogers.   - Courtesy photo
Instructor Kurt Kurtz (center) shows students in the YouthBuild program about measuring angles. From left to right is D’Vonte Ashford, George Howard and Aaron Rogers.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

August may not be the typical time of time of year for graduations. However, for two dozen students, this week marked an important milestone.

Students in the YouthBuild program at the MultiService Center have worked hard over the last eight months to achieve something some of them never thought they would do — get their GED and learn the skills that will find them jobs.

YouthBuild is a national program that helps low-income youth, from 18 to 24 years old, work toward their GED or high school diploma while learning job skills through working in a construction program, as well as train for job interviews and leadership.

The program is more prevalent on the East Coast, but it’s been moving west. The MultiService Center’s program is the first one in the South King County area.

For Aaron Rogers, 21, the program helped him get back on his feet.

“I joined because I lost my job and it was hard to find another job without a GED,” Rogers said. “I found out about (YouthBuild) and joined. It’s a really great program and it helped me a lot. I have a job now because of it, with the interviewing practice, and I have my GED.”

Devin Howell, a case manager for MSC, ran the program this year. He went to courthouses, schools and put out fliers to find youth who were struggling and could use the program to get some help.

Most of the students have dropped out of high school and 80 percent have a criminal record. Some are also single parents.

During the first month of the program, the students must prove that they have the mental toughness to complete the program by showing up on time and participating.

“Just the fact that they made it through is a tremendous success,” Howell said.

Howell said he had one student, a 21-year-old, who said this was the first thing he ever completed and was proud of that.

As part of the program, the students learn how do basic construction work and can finish the class with their pre-apprenticeship certificate. During the training the students actually go out and help build low-income housing. This time around they worked in Tacoma. Howell said they are hoping to start working with Habitat for Humanity next time.

The other half of the program is getting their GED along with interview skills, leadership, community service and job searching.

For George Howard, 22, the program was an opportunity to get help achieving his GED. Getting his Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate was a bonus.

“It just seemed the way to go,” Howard said. “I’ve gotten my GED.”

The program is funded by a federal grant. The $173,363 grant runs through 2012.

“It changes lives,” Howell said. “It’s an opportunity to prove they can do it. It gives them hope and encourages them and sets them up for success.”

Those students will still have support and case management at the MSC for two to three more years, said Tricia Schug, communications manager at MSC.

To qualify for the program you must be 18 to 24 years old, with no high school diploma or GED and no criminal record that includes a crime against a person. The program is drug free and testing occurs throughout.

Howell will soon start taking applications for the next session of the program, which will start in January. For more information call the MultiService Center, (253) 835-7678.

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