YouthBuild: one stimulus model
The program has turned lives around and builds affordable community housing.
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Then a former teacher connected him with YouthBuild Boston, a local affiliate of a nationwide program that enables low-income young people to stay with their education and learn job skills while building affordable housing for their communities.
Today, Mr. Brito is a graduate of the program and a union carpenter. "I learned everything there – how to show up on time, how to work with others, to never give up," he says. "Now [I] ... wake up every morning wanting to go to work. I love what I do!"
YouthBuild has opened doors to employment for more than 84,000 youths most often left behind. It's also completed 18,000 affordable housing units in 44 states.
Because of YouthBuild's success, the recent stimulus bill included $50 million to expand the program beyond resources already available to it in the Labor Department budget.
The program is directed toward people ages 16 to 24 and aims especially to help high school dropouts and youth offenders.
In a 2008 study of its work with offenders, researchers from Vanderbilt University found that every dollar spent on a YouthBuild participant yielded between $10.80 and $42.90 in benefits to taxpayers. Participants completed their GEDs or high school diplomas at a rate twice the national average for high school dropouts and had a recidivism rate 10 percent lower than other groups studied.
"For so many young people, the first 18 years of their lives haven't worked very well," says Kenneth Smith, executive director of YouthBuild Boston. "They want to embrace an opportunity to change."
At the Boston program, youths learn construction trades, landscaping, or facilities management. They weatherize homes for the elderly in their neighborhoods. Last year, 14 graduates made it into the carpenters union.
Perhaps one secret to the program's success lies in its origin: The idea came from youths themselves.
Back in 1978, Dorothy Stoneman was working with low-income teens in East Harlem in New York and asked them what they would do for their community if they had adult support. The kids said they'd take back abandoned houses from drug dealers, restore them, and give them to homeless families. They began to do just that.