Brick by brick, stone by stone, is how the Mississippi Action for Community Education, Inc. (MACE) YouthBuild program is rebuilding hope and changing lives in the Greenville community.
Last week, the program partnered with Delta Sigma Theta for three days and volunteered to repair and repaint a house on Carver Circle.
According to YouthBuild Construction Teaching chairperson Bob Boyd, the project was the first of several fix-up projects underway by the United Way of Washington County, which will draw in other volunteer teams to assist elderly and disabled home-owners with upkeep on their properties.
The MACE YouthBuild program started Oct. 1, 2009, and subsequently, received its first grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Boyd joined YouthBuild a year later as the Construction Teaching chair and has been with the program ever since.
According to the Department of Labor’s website, the Division of Youth Services within the Employment and Training Administration’s Office of Workforce Investment at the U.S. Department of Labor administers the YouthBuild program.
“We’ve been through four or five grant cycles and a short gap of almost a year where we didn’t get funding, but kept operating with volunteers and other assistance,” Boyd said. “So, it’s a program that’s got its feet on the ground and in our current situation, a lot of YouthBuild’s affiliates are local and they’re all sponsored by local non-profits or local governments.”
Essentially, the Department of Labor funds the program, but it does not directly handle the operation of the program.
Boyd highlighted YouthBuild having to go virtual for the better part of a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virtual avenue proved to be highly challenging, according to Boyd, as it was for most school districts and educational entities.
“Three months ago, we were allowed to have students on site and in-person for half a day, 8:30 a.m. until noon,” Boyd cheerfully informed. “Just recently, the first of July, the Labor Department gave us the “ok” to go a full school day which we’re now doing, so we have the kids from 8 o’clock until 2:30 in the afternoon.”
Boyd said he and his YouthBuild counterparts are teaching students in two threads, the dominant one being the preparation to receive their GED.
“Our applicants by definition must be a person who has not completed high school for one reason or another and who are between the ages of 16 and 24, so, one we help them get their GED. Two, we teach them a marketable skill as in construction,” he said, noting some YouthBuilds have different specialties such as pre-nursing programs and others.
“But this Greenville project,” Boyd added, “has always specialized in GED plus construction.”
YouthBuild’s construction curriculum is written by the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB), which is the premiere nation-wide trade association of the home construction industry.
With that, Boyd and the other half of his two-man construction team, which includes himself, have both been trained by the NAHB, specifically by its non-profit partner, Home Builders Institute (HBI) — a national leader for career training in the building industry, according to the NAHB.
“We’re both trained in that curriculum and authorized to issue the trainees HBI apprenticeship certificates in construction, sheetrock hanging and finishing, painting and finishing, landscaping and building management — to be the manager of a multi-story apartment building — and mechanical engineer for such buildings,” he said.
Currently, students ranging from 16 to 18 years of age make up the majority of the YouthBuild program’s participants.
Although there aren’t as many signing up to participate, Boyd reiterated those individuals who are up to 24 years of age are welcome.
He pointed out the downturn in employment of young people during several months of the COVID-19 pandemic for a bevy of industries.
We have in our current grant cycle, an obligation to train or touch at least 31 students and we have already exceeded that goal, but we’ve got them at various stages,” he explained. “Sometimes you’ll see one person come in, get on the computer and register to pass the GED and sometimes, you’ll see seven or eight students in the classroom. Right now we’re averaging about eight or nine every day. Others are ahead of them and others are behind them, but that’s about where they are.”
Despite program participation woes brought on as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, YouthBuild, among a number of agencies, was as Boyd put it, “one of the most progressive.”
In its YouthBuild program evaluation in terms of strength and productivity pre COVID-19, the Department of Labor found Greenville’s program to be one of the strongest.
“That kept us funded and kept us working full-time throughout. There were 450 (YouthBuild programs) more or less in all 50 states and about 50 or 60 of them did not survive COVID,” Boyd said. “In Mississippi alone, we went from six or seven down to three or four just because people couldn’t figure out how to keep things alive during COVID.”
Boyd added that the MACE YouthBuild program was not only a survivor, but considered to be one of the most superior programs of the southeast region.