Youthbuild can change the lives of many young people

Above, Sophia Laudano of Boston participates in the YouthBuild orientation, which took place last month. The 34 young people chosen will began taking their classes this week.
By Lori O'Brien



More than 70 young people participated in an intensive orientation last month that was filled with challenges and evaluations and will ultimately lead to a big payoff in 10 months graduating from the YWCA YouthBuild Springfield program, according to YouthBuild Director Susan Rabbitt.

There were more than 150 applicants for the much sought after 34 slots available in the 10-month YouthBuild program which began with orientation in September. Of the 72 original participants in the orientation process, only 34 made the cut by the end of the month. Participants who passed the rigorous orientation will now begin classes in earnest during the week of Oct. 3.

Most referrals to YouthBuild came from the Department of Youth Services, Department of Social Services, the court system, the Department of Transitional Assistance, and friends and family of previous YouthBuild participants, according to Rabbitt.

The local program, one of 11 in the state, is a division of YouthBuild USA, a national nonprofit organization that works with unemployed and undereducated young people, ages 16 to 24. Participants work toward their GED or high school diploma in 10 months while also learning valuable job skills by building affordable housing for homeless and low-income people. Ultimately, YouthBuild USA hopes that participants learn the importance of leadership development, community service, and of creating a positive mini-community of adults and young people committed to success. The national YouthBuild movement is committed to diminishing poverty in the United States and abroad.

During a recent interview with Reminder Publications, Rabbitt said that young people are dropping out of high school at a rate of almost 50 percent in many large urban systems.

"They are willing and able to make changes in their lives if given the opportunity and tools to succeed," she said, adding that as the months progress, participants accepted into the program "become like family" to the staff.

Rabbitt is proud of the seven-year track record of YouthBuild in the city 80 percent of graduates find full-time jobs or go on to college. Participants work with Rabbitt and her staff which includes two construction trainers, two teachers, a leadership development and student support coordinator, a counselor/job developer and an alumni coordinator.

"We have a remarkable staff," said Rabbitt, adding that four staff members have been with the program since the beginning.

Academic classes will be conducted at 7 Orleans St., while the job site for the new three-bedroom, single-family home to be constructed in Springfield was still being determined at press time.

The local YouthBuild concept is unique participants spend 10 months on academics as well as on a job site helping to build a home with volunteers from Habitat for Humanity, YouthBuild's housing partner.

"They learn everything except the mechanicals," said Rabbitt, referring to the participants in the program. "We also have a wonderful partnership with Habitat for Humanity," she said, adding that Habitat's volunteers are "very generous in accommodating YouthBuild's weekday schedule."

Rabbitt also added that her team works closely with the Springfield Park and Recreation Department, as well as several nonprofits throughout the year.

The participants chosen for the 34 slots are all "very enthusiastic," according to Rabbitt, which makes her job as well as for her staff that much more rewarding. Half of those chosen for the program are young women. Participants receive a stipend of $115 a week for their accomplishments in class and at the job site.

Springfield's program receives funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as from private grants. Rabbitt stressed she would like to accept more students each year, however, that can only be done with more private donations and grants.

Persons or organizations interested in making donations to YWCA YouthBuild Springfield can contact Rabbitt weekdays at (413) 733-9172.

Reminder Publications, Inc. 280 North Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028 • Tel: 413.525.6661 • Fax 413.525.5882

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