Youth Build hammers for Habitat

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 9, 2009

NATCHEZ — When it comes time to fill out their next resume, one group of Natchezians will have one more thing to list.

Students in the Youth Build program in Natchez are putting their classroom work to the test at least twice a week by working at the newest Habitat for Humanity house in Natchez.

Youth Build is a program funded through the U.S. Department of Labor that gives low-income, disadvantaged youth education, construction training, job skills training and counseling in order to prepare them to enter the job force or continue their education.

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Locally, the Youth Build program has partnered with Copiah-Lincoln Community College to give GED education to participants without a high school diploma.

“It is all about giving these kids a leg up,” Youth Build Construction Manager John Evans said.

Evans is in charge of teaching the participants the construction skills necessary to earn certification from the National Center for Construction Education and Research.

The completion of the core curriculum, which all graduates of the program will complete, readies the students for further training from the National Center for Construction Education and Research.

“There are over 450 specialties they can go on and study,” Evans said. “But they first have to complete the core curriculum and we are giving them access to that here.”

But Evans said more than construction training, the programs offers the participants a glimpse at what the “real world” is like. Participants will be card carrying members of the NCCER, but he said there are other, more important, skills they are picking up thanks to Youth Build.

“More than anything we are teaching these students work ethic,” he said. “What it means to be at a job on time and do your job while you are there, that is what these kids are learning.”

Youth Build student Candace McGowan is a prime example. McGowan, 22, said prior to her acceptance in to the youth build program she didn’t have a real plan for her life.

“I just thought ‘Whatever goes on will go on,’” she said. “I thought going to college would be a waste of all those years, but now that’s my plan — to go to college.”

But before she gets there, McGowan has picked up a few skills thanks to Youth Build. She said prior to starting the construction centered educational programs she had never used a hammer and wasn’t real fond of being on a ladder.

“I was scared of heights, but now I’m up there hammering and building,” McGowan said. “We don’t get any breaks just because we are female.”

For Youth Build participant Brandon Grantham, 18, construction isn’t anything new. He said he’s been helping his family out with repair projects since he was 10 years old.

But something is different about his latest construction job, he said.

“We are seeing it from the ground up out here,” he said. “We’ve been working on it since digging the trenches.”

The students work in two groups — a morning crew and an afternoon crew. While one group is working at the construction site, the other is working on leadership training, GED training and counseling.

The Youth Build program is set to move into a new space upstairs from the city council chambers on June 15. The new space allows room for classroom space as well as indoor construction activities.

On days when the participants can’t work outside, Evans said they will work on projects indoors to improve their skills using different tools.

Evans said the goal of the program is to produce well-rounded, community-minded individuals and so far he said this group is on track to be just that.

“We had 22 on the first day, and we still have 22 today. Our retention rate is good,” Evans said. “And there are so many other kids that this program would be good for. It is about helping the community.”