Did you know that there are an estimated 4.9 million 16 to 24-year-old individuals in this country who are not in school and are also unemployed? This is an unfortunate but true statistic, and roughly 3 million of these young people are living in poverty.
During the recent district work period, I had the opportunity to visit Eufaula Housing Authority’s (EHA) YouthBuild program, an organization in Alabama’s Second District that is really making a difference in the lives of these individuals in Barbour County. YouthBuild is a youth development program that serves these out-of-school youth by providing them with the opportunity, hope, and support to rebuild their lives while equipping them with the necessary skills to facilitate success in both the workforce and their communities.
EHA’s YouthBuild program serves young people ages 16 to 24 who are not currently enrolled in high school or have recently dropped out and re-entered. Participants also represent at least one of these six disadvantaged groups: low-income household, parent(s) incarcerated, youth aging out of foster care, youth with a disability, homeless, and adjudicated. Students who meet these criteria must complete a three-week mental toughness orientation before being accepted into the program. During this time, applicants learn more about YouthBuild, participate in daily physical training exercises, team-building activities, various skills workshops, and a community service assignment designed to teach the importance of giving back.
This mental toughness orientation is important because leadership and giving back are two ideals YouthBuild works extremely hard to instill in each and every participant. The program is well-equipped to facilitate growth in these important areas because they’ve partnered with various organizations, such as Youth Leadership Barbour County, to offer skills training and leadership development workshops.
In addition to fostering personal growth and development, YouthBuild provides excellent educational opportunities for participants by partnering with Wallace Community College and the Eufaula Career Center. Because of these local partnerships, YouthBuild is able to offer classes for GED preparation, Ready to Work (soft skills certification), welding, air conditioning and refrigeration, and electrical line work.
On top of these great opportunities, YouthBuild also offers its participants exceptional professional opportunities in construction. If they desire, students have the option to receive classroom and lab training in addition to hands-on training on construction sites. Oftentimes, these opportunities lead to paying jobs for students.
It’s no secret that at-risk youth often, understandably, need strong support to overcome the conditions that contributed to their challenging circumstances. YouthBuild offers students supportive services to help them overcome these barriers. Each student has access to career coaching, legal advocacy, tutoring, transportation and childcare vouchers, a graduation stipend, job placement assistance, and post-graduate follow-up engagement.
When I stopped by EHA’s YouthBuild, I saw firsthand the positive impact these service-driven educators and mentors have on the students in the program, and I was especially moved by personal testimonies I heard about how YouthBuild and its staff helped two young men in particular turn their lives around. The YouthBuild philosophy is to convey the importance of post-secondary education as a vehicle for personal advancement and growth, and during my visit, it was very clear that this ideology truly guides the program and all the hardworking men and women who dedicate their lives and careers to making it successful.
YouthBuild is invaluable to at-risk youth and young adults in Barbour County, but when I talked with staff there, I was informed of a tough challenge they face: Demand is so high that they’re continually forced to turn away applicants due to funding and space limitations. As a member of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education (Labor-HHS) Subcommittee, I have proudly supported funding for YouthBuild, and I will continue to advocate for proper support for these important programs. They are meeting critical needs in our community, and it is imperative that we do all we can to ensure they are able to grow and thrive. I enjoyed my visit to YouthBuild and am already looking forward to next time.
Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.