Youth Build begins

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 23, 2009

NATCHEZ — Organizers of the national Youth Build program are going to have a tough decision to make.

During the first two days of the GED and skill building program for high school dropouts, 42 participants showed up.

The program — funded through the U.S. Department of Labor — kicked off Tuesday and will run through Feb. 26.

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This is a preliminary week, which will help weed out the participants that may not be entirely committed, said Carolann Johns, consultant with the U.S. Department of Labor.

The actual program has not begun yet.

But so far, it seems like everyone is committed, said Twain Peebles, new and developing site adviser for Youth Build said.

In fact, he told Natchez Community Development Director Darlene Jones — who helped bring the program to Natchez — that this is one of the better groups of participants he’s seen.

And Johns said it is typical to see a significant drop off of participants after the first day.

But Jones said everyone who came the first day came back.

Which is why it’s going to be hard to choose the students for the actual program.

“To try to get this core group down to 20 is going to be difficult,” Peebles said.

Jones said because of funding, only 41 students can be chosen to participate in the program.

And all 41 cannot be selected at once; the program has to be broken down into two different rounds.

The first “class” can only have 20 students.

Youth Build focuses on education, construction, job training, leadership development, counseling and retention services, Peebles said.

It’s not just getting a GED. It’s making a life change and making oneself marketable, he said.

But the students will earn their GEDs through Co-Lin Community College, which Youth Build has partnered with.

After the program has ended, Peebles said the students are either guided into jobs, or encouraged to continue their education.

“We get them engaged in applying to at least three colleges,” he said.

He said one graduate of Youth Build became an attorney in Milwaukee, Wis., one graduated with a PhD from Harvard University, one became an elected official in New York, and the list goes on.

“I told them on their first day that I’m going to be able to come back here and say the same thing about someone in this group,” Peebles said of the Natchez Youth Build group.

In addition to acquiring education and skills, the participants also get to have fun, and Peebles said it was evident the participants were having just that Tuesday and Wednesday.

“One of the things that stood out is they were having fun,” he said. “When do they get the opportunity to have fun?”

Cedric Taylor and Chad Smoot said that’s one of the things they like about the program.

“You get a physical work out,” Smoot said.

But that’s not all.

“You get to learn good lesson in life and have fun while we do it,” Taylor said.

The two said they were appreciative that such a program has been brought to Natchez, and both said they plan to fight for a spot out of the 20 open.

“I’ll be here every day,” Taylor said.

Once the actual program begins, it will last between 10 months to a year.