Two dozen down-and-out teens and young adults came together Monday afternoon in a West Minnehaha classroom to celebrate their shot at a comeback.
Some are homeless or aging out of the foster care system with no safe place to go. Others have struggled with drug abuse and gang involvement or recently became parents without the means to raise children.
At some point in the past few years, everyone in the group dropped out of high school. And now, a consortium of local nonprofit groups is giving them a chance to rebuild their future with a competitive new program to help them earn GED diplomas and learn construction skills.
The program, called YouthBuild Vancouver, is funded by a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. In the next three years, the money will help several dozen people ages 17 to 24 earn GEDs and construction certificates on their way to building a career, said Julia Maglione, a spokeswoman for the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council.
“These are kids that are disengaged with the education system,” Maglione said. “This is kind of a second chance for them. These are people that have had a rough life.”
The program will allow the students to get back into the classroom five days a week, moving through the curriculum at their own pace, Maglione said. Meanwhile, they’ll also help Habitat for Humanity build two energy-efficient homes for low-income families in the area.
“Anyone going into construction, they’re coming out way ahead,” she said. “And even if they don’t go into construction, they’re learning a whole bunch of transferable skills that are just going to help them with pretty much anything they want to do.”
Founded in 1978 by a teacher who set out to fight poverty and gang violence in Harlem, YouthBuild has grown to include 273 localized programs stretching across 46 states. Maglione said she hopes the program will eventually become a mainstay in the city.
YouthBuild comes to Vancouver from a partnership of five nonprofit groups: Partners in Careers, Evergreen Habitat for Humanity, the Vancouver Housing Authority, WorkSource Vancouver and the workforce development council.
It officially launched Monday in Vancouver as the 24 participants prepared to enter a two-week boot camp before making their way through the rest of the program. At noon, the group celebrated the fresh start with Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, who shared his pride in them before leading a short commemorative run around the neighborhood.
“I think the point is that there are people in this community that care about you,” Leavitt told them. “We care about the city. You all live in the city or you live around the city. We want you to be successful.”
Leavitt encouraged the participants to find what they can learn from their mistakes and keep moving forward. The experience could serve as a springboard for something bigger down the road, whether that’s starting their own business or raising children someday, he said.