Isabella Rodriguez stopped going to class regularly in middle school. Education was secondary to family drama, and things got worse when she started hanging out with the wrong crowd.
Although she tried different programs to get back on track, none of them panned out. When the 22-year-old got involved with YouthBuild Vancouver, something finally clicked.
“I started listening and doing everything they asked of me,” Rodriguez said. “It was tough. It was different because I was used to partying and staying up late and not doing much with my time.”
Going to class and helping build a house during the summer was a difficult transition, but the sweat equity led to Rodriguez getting an internship at a construction company. She wants to set a good example for her brother and complete her final General Educational Development exam.
On Wednesday, Rodriguez and other YouthBuild students admired their finished handiwork at 909 Winchell Ave. in Vancouver’s Hudson’s Bay neighborhood. They had been called at-risk youth and now they could call themselves homebuilders.
The baby blue house is the first home constructed by YouthBuild Vancouver. In 2014, YouthBuild Vancouver got a $1.1 million grant from the Department of Labor that was administered by Workforce Southwest Washington aimed at developing job skills among unemployed youth who’d dropped out of high school.
Melinda Patterson said she knows they “put extra love and care” into building her home. Previously, Patterson and her two sons lived in homeless shelters and transitional housing.
“This is something I never thought I would have — becoming a homeowner,” she said.
YouthBuild Vancouver is a branch of the main nonprofit that took off in the 1990s. In many communities, YouthBuild takes on every aspect of building housing for low-income families and works alone. Vancouver’s work was a collaboration among Evergreen Habitat for Humanity, Partners in Careers, Vancouver Housing Authority, Second Step Housing, WorkSource and Workforce Southwest Washington.
“I think that speaks to who we are as a community. It was several nonprofits coming together and saying ‘we all want to make this happen and here’s how we’re going to do it and we’re going to do it really well,’ ” said Josh Townsley, executive director of Evergreen Habitat for Humanity.
Work started on the home in February. The 32 YouthBuild students were primarily taught by Tim Wilmoth, Habitat’s youth programs project manager.
“I have the same story as they have,” Wilmoth said. “I dropped out of high school when I was 17, wasn’t really doing anything with my life either. My dad said ‘get off the couch. You’re going to work with me.’ He got me into construction and I’ve been doing it ever since, about 30 years now. I can kind of relate to how they are, not liking school. I didn’t like school. So, when I teach I don’t teach them like it’s a school. I coach them like it’s a sport.”
The courses he taught included basic safety, blueprint reading, framing and carpentry. Participants earned nationally recognized construction certifications in addition to their GED certificates, and many have already landed jobs.
Having finished the program, David Hoffman is working as a carpenter’s assistant and will start classes at Clark College this fall. The 19-year-old dropped out of Hudson’s Bay High School during his junior year.
“I just didn’t want to go. I just kind of went ‘screw that. I don’t have to go,’ ” Hoffman said.
Ian Swanson said poor health derailed his high school career.
“I could not focus on school anymore. That was it for me. I fell off of everything basically. When you stop thriving academically everything else also stops to thrive,” said Swanson, 22.
A friendly competition among his peers motivated him to earn his GED certificate in 5 1/2 weeks. Getting the certificate and being involved in the program improved his outlook on life, and he hopes to take graphic design classes at Clark.
YouthBuild students will next help Habitat for Humanity build a 10-home subdivision in Vancouver’s Father Blanchet Park neighborhood called McKibbin Commons. Classes start in two weeks.