2006 YouthBuild report card: State of YouthBuild

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115706387632351.jpg’, ‘Frank Schier’, ‘YouthBuild Rockford’s Executive Director Kerry Knodle addressed the program’s graduates, families and friends at the 11th Annual Graduation and Recognition Ceremony, Wed., Aug. 23 at Memorial Hall. Director of the Mayor’s Office of Education and Life Long Learning Adam Smith, a former YouthBuild staff member, gave the keynote speech. ‘);

Welcome, and thank you for helping us celebrate our 11th YouthBuild (YB) Rockford graduation.

As we salute the accomplishments of these young people, it is also our practice to report on the State of YouthBuild, both locally and nationally.

This group of young people represents the beginning of the second decade of the YouthBuild Rockford program! Thirteen years ago, community leaders gathered to ponder solutions to the growing problem of dropouts and youth unemployment in Rockford. From there, YouthBuild Rockford was born. While the results are very encouraging, those same issues still confront our community today.

Should we be discouraged by the fact that:

there are more dropouts in Illinois than there are residents of Rockford;

This country only provides remedial educational and employment services for 3 percent of the eligible out-of-school youth population. Do the math: 5.4 million out-of-school youth for 250,000 program slots—somebody is being left behind.

Last year, YB programs turned away 12,000 youth seeking to reconnect

THE ANSWER IS NO! In Rockford, and across the country, these facts indicate that more and more young people are seeking out programs like YB, furthering their education, starting careers, and giving back to their communities. In increasing numbers, these young people are active in community affairs, are voting, and are vocal about securing resources to address these issues. Now more than ever, we must educate our policy makers and the general public about the out-of-school youth who have been undervalued and overlooked, and who have the potential to become America’s best resource or worst liability.

It’s not always an easy task. These young people are all too familiar with adversity; yet they do not shy away from it. Earlier this year, we were reminded of the difficulties we face in rebuilding neighborhoods when there was a major gang-related gun battle directly in front of two new homes we were building on Winnebago Street. One might imagine that this would result in our trainees not wanting to return to that site. Rather, after a couple days, these young people were asking when they could return to work! In Detroit a few months ago, gang members firebombed and destroyed a YB house. Those young people turned the incident into an opportunity to rally the neighbors behind ridding the neighborhood of gangs! What we have found at YB Rockford, one of our “ingredients for success,” is that these young people, when given a seat at the table, will step up to the plate and get things done. We hear phrases like “No Child Left Behind,” “Excellence Everywhere.” The challenge for these young people is to make sure that their voices are heard, and that their insights and talents are tapped to make these phrases come to life. Through partnerships with many community organizations, these young people have stepped up, made a difference, both for themselves, their families, their neighbors, and the wider community. In a moment, we will be hearing from the City’s Director of Education and Lifelong Learning, who will perhaps share with us some of the exciting things happening to improve the lives of young people in Rockford. We have much to celebrate tonight. Our 11th graduating class has accomplished much this year. I encourage you, at the conclusion of this ceremony, to meet these young people and ask them to share their stories of success and transformation. Now for the Report Card:Nationally, YB is now more than 226 programs strong and growing each year. Since 1994, 60,000 YB students have built more than 15,000 units of affordable housing. More than 25 YB programs are also now diploma-granting schools. The Gates Foundation has invested more than $5 million to help YouthBuild establish 10 new schools and convert 23 more to diploma-granting status. Based on recommendations of the White House Task force on Disadvantaged Youth, YouthBuild will officially move from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to Department of Labor (DOL) during the coming year. While construction training will continue to be the primary focus, this move will more closely align YB with other federal Work Force Development (WFD) programs, and pave the way for additional training in other career tracks. For YB, this will likely mean a move from HUD to the DOL in the near future. In Illinois, we have grown from three programs a few short years ago to 12 programs today, with many more working to start. YouthBuild has gone INTERNATIONAL. More in a moment. Since 1995, 458 young people have decided to turn their lives around through YBR—33 of them are here tonight.

What about YouthBuild in Rockford?

As we complete our 11th year, we are grateful to all those who have worked to create, sustain and grow our programs, and to all those who have believed in and invested in these young people, who now number more than 450 strong. These include our staff, board of directors, advisory committees, community partners, supporters, funders, volunteers, and graduates. Inside your program is a partial list of those who gave or helped so generously this year. We are most appreciative! I want to especially recognize our staff and board of directors, who day-to-day and month-to-month make the program tick.

Some highlights from this year include:

Thirty-four graduates; eight with honors. Total graduates so far are 284! GEDs equal17, with more working to complete theirs in the near future. YBR continues as one of about 30 programs nationwide under the U.S. Department of Labor Offender Re-entry Program, providing services to young adults returning to the community from incarceration. This past year, Winnebago County added its support to YB through funding to work with individuals who are involved with the court system. For the first time ever, YBR is receiving support for YB from United Way of Rock River Valley. Participation by YB members in more than 98 community service projects, logging more than 5,500 hours of direct service to dozens of individuals, agencies and organizations in Rockford. These range from tutoring/mentoring elementary school students to helping Tinker Cottage rebuild a historic wall, to refurbishing playgrounds to distributing furniture to needy families. By the way, this brings the total number of service projects by YBR to 1,046, and a total of more than 105,000 hours of service since 1996. Our successes continue in gaining access to union apprenticeships for our graduates. Our graduates have entered apprenticeships with the Carpenters, Plumbers, Electricians, Sheet Metal Workers, Painters unions—some are about to become journeymen. Some of these young people worked throughout the year with the HOPE VI project at Champion Park, working with union tradesmen in our internship program. Completion of three more new construction projects by our young people—two homes on North Winnebago Street and one on South Court Street are nearly ready for occupancy. This brings the total of YB projects to 31 units of housing for low-income families completed by our trainees. These homes have added more than $2.5 million in value to the tax base, and generated more than $150,000 in new property tax revenue for distressed neighborhoods. We sent two delegates to the National Youth Conference, Washington, D.C. International: four of our graduates have just returned from the first round of student exchanges with a sister program in Berlin, Germany, and we will be hosting a second group of German students at YBR this fall. In addition to the incredible experience of spending five weeks in a foreign country, this program is working to produce a standard construction curriculum recognized both in the European Union and U.S.

What's on the drawing board for 2007?

Plans to do three more new homes during the coming year. Plans to continue our effort to establish Rockford’s first vocational Charter School. Completion of Lincolnwood Estates Phase 2 with 18 more homes; 14 of the 18 have been sold in less than a year! Comprehensive Community Solutions (CCS) is planning t

he construction of a number of zero-energy homes in Rockford, incorporating solar, geothermal and green building techniques. Mural project: Put Your Art on the Walls of Rockford—Arts Council, CCS, River District Way To Peace Project (WTPP) new character education program being implemented at Ellis Arts Academy and potentially other public schools.

So, thank you for joining us for this celebration. This is, indeed, a very special day for all of these young people. The work we do in YouthBuild is hard work, but the results, year after year, are inspiring, visible and real.

To all of our graduates: On behalf of CCS, the Illinois Youth Build Coalition, YouthBuild USA, our board and supporters, congratulations on an incredible year. You continue to inspire us, and we are privileged to have worked with you and to share in your accomplishments, which will not be soon forgotten. We look forward to seeing you as alumni in the years to come. Congratulations!

From the Aug. 30-Sept. 5, 2006, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!