Rockford youth support life-changing programs

Local Rockford YouthBuild program participants Victoria Mergener and Renita Tyus joined other low-income youth leaders from across the country on Capitol Hill Wednesday, March 15, to encourage legislators to support YouthBuild, a comprehensive and effective community development, job training and educational program for low-income youth.

YouthBuild Rockford is one of 226 YouthBuild programs in the U.S. In YouthBuild, unemployed and undereducated young people ages 16-24 work toward their GED or high school diploma while learning job skills by building or refurbishing affordable housing for homeless and low-income people in their community.

Since 1992, 60,000 YouthBuild participants have produced 15,000 units of affordable housing. Since 1995, more than 450 young adults have enrolled in the YouthBuild Rockford program.

Ninety percent of YouthBuild students have previously left high school without a diploma, 30 percent have been adjudicated, and all of them are poor.

Despite these overwhelming odds, more than half of the students complete the YouthBuild program and go on to college or a job with an average wage of more than $8 per hour.

The recidivism rate for YouthBuild graduates who have previously been convicted of a felony is just 15 percent, compared with a national recidivism rate of 67 percent.

Locally, 90 percent of program graduates find employment and/or continue their education.

Wednesday, March 15, Mergener and Tyus, along with program graduate and staff member Antonio Ramirez, joined more than 100 young people in Washington, D.C., to meet with more than 100 legislators and staff to share their YouthBuild experiences and emphasize the need to support the expansion of YouthBuild to more communities and young people across the country.

Tuesday, March 14, YouthBuild celebrated the accomplishment of 60,000 YouthBuild students who built 15,000 units of affordable housing. The celebration, cosponsored by 28 members of Congress and YouthBuild USA, featured special guests Deputy Secretary Roy Bernardi of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Deputy Assistant Secretary Mason Bishop of the U.S. Department of Labor, and Davis Eisner, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Last year, a bipartisan majority in the Senate (53 senators) and 119 representatives called on the appropriations subcommittee governing HUD to increase by almost 50 percent the appropriation for YouthBuild.

“We are honored to have Victoria, Renita and Antonio represent our YouthBuild program and our community in Washington, D.C.,” said Kerry Knodle, executive director of the program. “They are wonderful role models for other young people in Rockford—they prove that youth can make a difference in their communities and the lives of others.”

From the April 12-18, 2006, issue

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