Youth Build USA
- by Pat Leonard, OP
Alternative Investment Committee

The recent Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) Newsletter highlighted an Alternative Investment (AI) called Portland Youth Builders (PYB). PYB is a part of Youth Build USA, whose mission is to “rebuild lives and communities; unleash the intelligence and positive energies of low-income youth.” Youth Build USA operates on the core values of respect, love, community, responsibility and cooperation. Youth Build’s philosophy promotes service and meaningful work for low-income youth in order to eliminate poverty and injustice.

Initially the Youth Build program began as the Youth Action program in East Harlem in 1988. Youth Build USA was founded in 1990 and has guided the development of more than 225 Youth Build programs. According to its web site, Youth Build USA works to advocate for public funding, guidance and quality assurance in the individual program implementation, searches out and develops leadership opportunities for the youth and staff, and seeks grants and loans to be distributed to Youth Build affiliates.

In 1992, Youth Build USA created Affiliated Network to ensure the integrity of the Youth Build programs throughout the country. The Affiliated Network strives to strengthen the national Youth Build programs by providing support for directors and staff. The Network also works to ensure that all Youth Build programs remain committed to the Youth Build philosophy and standards.

All young men and women referred to Youth Build programs are poor, and many have been a part of a particular foster care system, or may have been incarcerated or involved with the juvenile justice system, homeless and supported financially through the welfare system. The demographics of the students served by the various Youth Build programs shows that males make up 72 percent and females, 28 percent. Ethnicity of the majority of the participants is African American, followed by Latino(a), and Caucasian. Eighty-eight percent have not achieved a high school diploma or GED and the average reading grade level is 7.2.

The participants are assisted with education, job training, leadership development, counseling and graduate support. The average stay in the program is 8.5 months, but students may continue for 24 months. The students divide their time between construction sites and Youth Build alternative school.

In the "Latest News" section of the Youth Build web site, 385 graduates and students will be using the construction skills that they learned from the Youth Build programs across the country to build up to 300 units of housing in the Gulfport, Mississippi, area. It is being called the Youth Build AmeriCorps Katrina Rebuilding Project. The project will take approximately one year, with alternating and rotating crews every month. Youth Build USA received a $2.9 million grant to cover the non-construction costs and has received additional support from Home Depot and individual donors.

To find out more about the Youth Build USA program and what it may be doing your part of the country, visit the Youth Build USA web site at www.youthbuild.org.