For a few weeks, the fingers of Chris Spicer and many of who work with YouthBuild of Jackson were crossed for good luck. The organization had applied for a federal grant through the U. S. Department of Labor which would continue to fund them for three years. However the odds were stacked against them, as they were one of approximately 880 applicants nationwide. But the good luck wishes and federal funding did come true for YouthBuild last Friday, when they were told they would receive the $700,000 grant for the first two years, then a “follow up” grant for the third year.
The Department of Labor grant will help job train 42 young men and women in Breathitt and Perry counties, and would take effect through 2014.
That announcement was made during a news conference at the Life Skills Center in downtown Jackson that was attended by YouthBuild students and personnel, as well as local and regional leaders. YouthBuild Jackson was one of 76 community groups across the nation who were awarded a total of nearly $75.8 million to provide education and training to young people.
When the funding word was final, it was as if a big sigh of relief could be heard inside the meeting room. “I'm proof that this program works,” said Spicer, a YouthBuild graduate who works as an AmeriCorps volunteer. He told the Times-Voice after the news conference that the program “talks the talk and walks the walk” in rebuilding lives and communities. “Overall, they showed me what the meaning of 'starting over' really is. They put me on my way to go to college, and with this group here today, we have 12 students watching this announcement. Five or six of them are getting their GED (General Educational Development) degrees. YouthBuild is putting them on a path in their lives for a better future, like they did me.”
One of those students at the announcement was Jeff Howard, an 18-year-old from Jackson who's been with YouthBuild since last October. “It's taught me a better work ethic, the importance of education, and being responsible for myself and to others around me.” Howard's among those who are presently learning the building trades with YouthBuild, and credits them with giving him job skills like bricklaying, carpentry, home construction methods and fiscal responsibility, such as managing their money.
“They've helped me rebuild my life again a hundred percent. I'm learning to get my GED now, and we'll test for it next Wednesday. It's opened my eyes to the world and what I can do. I know it's hard to make it. But you can.”
YouthBuild Jackson is an affiliate of YouthBuild USA, a nationwide program where 16-24 year olds work toward their high school credentials while learning job skills which ultimately leads to being self-sufficient. Those who participate in the program include people who have been in the juvenile justice system, high school dropouts, youth's aging out of foster care, and other young men and women who are given a “second chance.”
When not learning the construction trades and discovering “green” building techniques, YouthBuild Jackson's students volunteer with community service projects and organizations. “We've been helping out with Helping Hands Christian Resources over at their bigger location on Route 52 in Elkatawa,” Spicer noted. “They've helped set up food distribution and worked with the families who are served by the program. All those families are just tickled to death with these volunteers. The best example of that was an email I got from their director, Cathaleen Abner. She said in her email to me that she and her workers would have never gotten anything done without us.”
“There's a need here, and we are beginning to fill that need,” said Lynn Rippy of Louisville, who's the Executive Director of YouthBuild Kentucky. Rippy was one of several local officials who shared the stage at the news conference, and pointed out the good relationship with YouthBuild and those officials as one of the reasons for the grant awarding. “The Department of Labor keeps a close eye on outcomes, and this program in Jackson has done that. And they also want good partnerships with the community that have worked. These young people have made that commitment, and what you hear from them is that this program works, and they want to make it work...Whether it be YouthBuild's partnership with Breathitt County and Jackson, or their partnership with the Hazard-Perry County Housing Alliance, the Labor Department has seen the outcomes. It's one of hope and success.”
“YouthBuild is not a program to end, it is a program to begin,” said Jackson's Vice-Mayor, Stephen Bowling, who then spoke directly to the students. “YouthBuild will take this money to build homes, but most of all, you're rebuilding yourselves so you can rebuild our community.”
“We depend on local leadership most of all. Good local leadership is one reason why you got that program,” added Pat Wooton of 5th District Congressman Hal Rogers' Office – one of several officials who talked to the crowd of about 30 persons. “YouthBuild will be able to repair some structures, but they'll also repair some lives. We're counting on you.”
“With this program, you'll learn a trade, feed your family, and build a home,” stated Breathitt County Judge-Executive Jason Richardson, who was later joined on stage by Donna Baker McClure, a Field Representative for U. S. Senator Mitch McConnell who read a statement on the senator's behalf. Also speaking were State Representative Teddy Edmonds, Hazard Community and Technical College President Dr. Stephen Greiner, and Jackson Fire Chief Roger Friley, who mentioned that his department would offer Hazmat training to the YouthBuild students in their construction work.
Many of those agreed the funding gift came at the right time. “Our funding was almost gone, and we knew the economy was bad. But when we got the grant, my first word was, 'Great. Now we can help some more of those youth.' I wasn't thinking about losing my job. I could get another one. But the fact I could keep helping those students was on my find first and foremost,” said Tim Howard, who's YouthBuild Jackson's construction manager, and who 's been with the program for one-and-a-half years. “I talked to the students this morning, and they said to me, 'We'll keep this program, and we'll be able to keep more students coming to use the program, to use the tools and know what they can do to improve their lives.' We have to get them while they're young. I hope they take the tools we teach them, and not only learn how to use them but learn to use what they learned here to improve their lives. That's my goal. To help grant them their wish, which is to put them on a better path to a better life.”