YouthBuild, a new City of Winston-Salem program, is giving high school drop-outs a chance to earn their GEDs while learning the lucrative construction trade.
YouthBuild is targeting drop-outs ages 16 to 24 who meet at least one of the following criteria: is a youth or adult offender; is a low-income city resident; are a current or former foster child; is a disabled resident; has an incarcerated parent; or is a migrant farm youth worker.
During the six month program, participants take GED classes and courses that will lead to certifications needed for entry-level construction work. Along the way, they will rehab a house that the City’s Housing Rehabilitation program will convert to an affordable housing unit.
Participants will be paid while in the program, which operates under the auspices of the Office of Community and Business Development and is funded by a three-year $1.1 million U.S. Department of Labor grant.
City Council Member James Taylor helped to bring the national program to Winston-Salem. He said it will provide second chances to many local residents.
“This takes young men and women who may have dropped out of high school, who may be experiencing some problems with the juvenile justice system, and gives them something productive to do, and then you get paid for it and learn a trade all at the same time,” Taylor said.
Last week, YouthBuild held information sessions at several recreation centers. Applications for the program’s second class, slated to start at the end of the month, were also accepted. Program Manager Antonio McKoy, speaking at the Sims Rec in Happy Hill last Thursday, told prospective applicants about some of the program requirements, including passing math and reading assessments, a drug test and an interview conducted by a panel of City officials. After that, there is a trial work week, when participants will take part in the program’s six hours of daily sessions. The city will track the progress of those who successfully complete the program for up to a year.
“If you want it, you’ve got to earn it yourself, right?” McKoy asked. “The good thing is we provide you with the opportunity to do that.”
Lessons in leadership and life skills are woven into the program, said McKoy, who likes that the program allows participants to put the skills they’ll learn to use by transforming a rundown house into someone’s new home.
“The work you do matters,” he said. “You’re not going to build a model house; you’re not going to build a dog house; you’re building real houses that people are going to live in and people have dreamed about living in.”
YouthBuild participants will be City employees during their six months of training, as such, they will have first dibs applying for City jobs. But, as McKoy told interested applicants, the skills taught in the program can be used at construction sites throughout the state and beyond.
“The skills you learn on that construction site, they translate into wherever you go,” McKoy said.
Anthony “TC” Cannon conducts the construction training. He formerly taught the City’s Section 3 Construction Training Program Initiative, a similar program for 18-35 year-olds with high school diplomas or GEDs that YouthBuild replaced. Cannon said most of his former students hold a variety of City positions and some have even started their own businesses. He said he sees potential in the initial YouthBuild class, which began in late August.
“They’re really turning their lives around. I have seen a change in two months,” Cannon said. “I have some that didn’t have it in themselves. Now, they have it in themselves, and they’re sticking with it.”
Daiquan Adams and Joe McCray are among those now receiving training in the first YouthBuild class. They attended the Sims Center session last week talk about the program. Both of the young men were seniors when they dropped out of high school last year. Adams said he fell behind in his work; McCray said he wasn’t doing well and wasn’t getting along with his teachers. YouthBuild is providing them with a second chance, they said.
Adams said it’s been a tremendous opportunity “because of the education you’re getting and when the two weeks come, it’s payday.”
McCray gave the program high marks. “ It feels good to have this badge on,” he said, holding his City employee ID.
The first YouthBuild program began in East Harlem, N.Y. in 1978. There are now 273 programs in 46 states, Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
YouthBuild’s next enrollment period will be early next year. For more information, call 336-734-1283.