Grand Rapids YouthBuild offers at-risk youth second chance at education and employment
GRAND RAPIDS — Finding a job is a task for most people, but a young person without a diploma may find few options. Local organizations are teaming up to provide a GED, an income and a developed skill set, all in one program, for low-income youths who are looking to change their life.
Chris Sain, of the Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, knows the struggle many young people — who dropped out of school, have disabilities, came from foster care, are homeless or a refugee — face because he works with at-risk youth every day.
The Grand Rapids YouthBuild Program will offer 60 young adults a chance to complete their GED, earn a paycheck and become certified in construction in the next two years. The first group of 30 students will begin the full-time gig in September. The second group will start next September.
“We know how important and difficult it is for young people to find a job because they tell us they can’t find one because they don’t have the diploma,” said Sain, who is managing the Grand Rapids YouthBuild Program.
“I’m excited because young people often times can benefit from a second chance and with caring adults around them, we give them a hand up — not a hand out — to become productive members of society. We give them income, we teach them life skills, and we give them meaningful employment which helps build self esteem,” he said.
Habitat for Humanity of Kent County and Bethany Christian Services received a $1.1 million grant to offer the program, which is the first of its kind in Grand Rapids. Detroit has a similar program.
The program is not for a young person who isn’t looking to change their life.
The 30 chosen in September will be evaluated during a two-week “mental toughness test” and must commit themselves to the alternative education program, a construction job and a year of follow-up with program mentors.
Being interested in construction is a must, since the job connections provided after completion will be in the field.
“The program is designed to really assist youth who are serious about making a life transformation, so we can’t serve all youth but we can serve those who are serious. Some youth may be interested in just finishing their GED, or the stipend, which is non-taxed money, but we need people who are interested in construction and carpentry and we are targeting females, too,” said Justin Beene of Bethany Christian Services.
Beene said the “mental-toughness boot camp” will be a two-week public service project completed by anyone interested in being in YouthBuild. They plan to select the first group of 30 youths during the two-week phase.
While a bootcamp may seem intimidating, Matt Agosto, 18, said it couldn’t be worse than anything else he’s been through, plus he loves volunteering.
“I think YouthBuild could change my life because while you’re in the program, you get the trade and they help you find a job,” said Agosto, a Grand Rapids teen who never finished high school. “I won’t have to run around to every other class because it’s all in one and we can focus on what I’m struggling with.”