On Thursday, May 24, Alexus sat at a picnic bench at Minnehaha Falls park, enjoying the shade on a 92-degree day. At a table behind her, the rest of the YouthBuild staff and participants were at work competing to build the tallest marshmallow tower on their last day of the program – a day of celebration! Reflecting on how she changed during her year in YouthBuild, Alexus laughed. “I’m scared of heights! But I actually got up on the ladder that leans against a garage we were working on, and I nailed in the nails even though I was scared. It was actually really fun, once I got up there and faced my fear!”
YouthBuild, one of Tree Trust’s JobPrep programs, aims to support youth leadership, build practical work skills, and get participants on the path to complete their high school diploma, all while giving back to the community by helping create low-cost housing. Participants are enrolled in the program for two years. During the active program year, participants build their skills in construction, as well as school. In the follow-up year, participants continue to work on their education and career goals. YouthBuild served 31 participants in the 2017-2018 cohort.
Those in their active program year worked alongside Habitat for Humanity staff to do interior carpentry, worked on garages and external projects in the North Minneapolis and Phillips neighborhoods, and attended workshops to gain exposure to all areas of carpentry. “I liked building houses with Habitat for Humanity. I feel like we learned a lot of good skills that we can also use for everyday life. It’s really good to teach you skills but help people too,” T’zya said. “We got to work with the people who would live in the houses, it really made you feel like part of the community.” Participants toured technical schools in the area, and also toured the Carpenters Union and Finishing Trades Union. “This was my first job,” Alexus said. “It opened doors for me. It taught me to be more responsible, have more leadership, and speak up more. If you want to advocate for yourself you have to speak up, or no one will know what ideas you have.”
Maja, YouthBuild Manager, said “When they went out in the community, when they worked with Habitat for the Humanity, went on college and apprenticeship training center tours, volunteered with Loaves and Fishes, everyone was so impressed with them. They were engaged, their level of professionalism and enthusiasm was great. They represented Tree Trust so well.”
Participants developed activities to meet their own personal goals and desires for the program as well. One thing that was very important to all of them was to give back to their community. They chose to volunteer with Loaves and Fishes at the Salvation Army to serve food to the hungry and homeless. Participants enjoyed the experience so much, they asked to do an additional day of service there. The Salvation Army days were Christina’s favorite non-work activity. “I learned I do have love for people who are homeless, and it makes me have a really strong feeling to help them. I loved it.”
While in the active program year, each participant increased at least one educational functional level in math or reading. Some participants also earned their Home Builders Institute (HBI) Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate Training, their Home Builders Institute Carpentry Certification, and their drivers permit. Of the participants who were in their follow-up year, 82% had enrolled in secondary education or employment within the first three months, and 81% had earned a degree, certificate, or credential.
Thinking back on the success of the participants this year, Maja emphasized how impressive they were. “They were so tight knit, they were ahead of schedule on their HBI training, they were so committed to the work and to being leaders in their community. They were truly an exceptional group.”
Participants who just completed their active program year, will move into their placement year, where they will work on completing the remainder of their education and workforce goals. Tree Trust staff will continue to help participants apply for jobs, complete high school, apply for secondary education, and move into their next steps.
Christina felt like she finally knows what she wants to do with her future. “Before YouthBuild, I thought I didn’t like to do anything, I didn’t want to grow up, I just wanted to stay young. But after being in YouthBuild, I realize that building houses makes people happy, having a home makes a happy family. Because of Tree Trust YouthBuild, I realized I have something to do in life. After this year, I plan to enter school to be an interior designer. I see in myself, that I could build houses.”