Elkins Rotary Club learns about Youth Build

Elkins Rotary Club members learned Monday about a program that not only helps students, but also benefits the local communities by building low-cost housing.

Jason Vandevender, program director for Youth Build North Central, explained the benefits of the program for participants as well as the communities the program serves.

“Youth Build is a program that focuses toward local, low-income young people ages 16-24,” Vandevender said. “They work toward their independence by obtaining their GED and learning job skills while building affordable housing within their own communities.”

Vandevender said Youth Build was created in 1990 by Dorothy Stoneman in Harlem, N.Y., as a solution to at-risk youth standing on the corners not having anything to do, and getting in trouble because they had too much idle time on their hands. She also saw a community that needed affordable, low-income housing.

“Stoneman figured how to bridge the gap,” Vandevender said. “Youth needed skills training and education and others needed housing. Since that time, there have been more than 100,000 Youth Build students that have built 21,000 units of affordable housing.”

Vandevender said currently there are 278 Youth Build programs in 46 states – in West Virginia, there are three Youth Build programs, in Elkins, Fairmont and Huntington.

“The local Youth Build program is a division of the Randolph County Housing Authority,” Vandevender said. “It was started in 1995. Since then, more than 200 youth in Barbour, Randolph and Tucker counties have been served. We have built or rehabilitated 15 low-income houses in the community.”

The Youth Build program is grant-funded by the West Virginia Department of Labor.

“Currently our students are working with multiple organizations within the community,” Vandevender said. “One of the projects they are working on is the Elkins Parks and Recreation building at Glendale Park. We will be finished up with that within the week.”

Vandevender said the students divide their time in the classroom, on-site and with community service.

“The classroom time is non-traditional with lots of time for one-on-one help,” Vandevender said. “They focus on math, science, reading; we are able to accommodate them so they can get to a place where they can successfully earn their GED.”

While students are in the Youth Build program, they can accomplish the OSHA 10 training, CPR and their pre-apprenticeship training.

“We also work on leadership skills,” he said. “Our main goal is to make the students independent. So we teach life skills, parenting skills, work force readiness and other programs they might not know about. It might be something as simple as opening up a checking account – something we might take for granted.”

Youth Build is a community development program. It has a trickle-down effect.

“We teach these students how to successfully manage life,” Vandevender said. “We get them work ready and teach them to build relationships. This allows them to buy homes and gain employment in the community and it helps others in the community. While the students are in the program, they are building affordable housing.”

Vandevender said people might have seen some of the students in a different light a year ago.

“Now they are out building housing and working on community service projects,” Vandevender said. “You are able to see that transformation from maybe a lost young adult into someone who has their GED and knows how to get a job. They become responsible adults while building housing that benefits the community.”

Additional information about the Youth Build program is available by calling 304-637-9008.