By Aida Mallard
Special to the Guardian
If you don’t have a high school education or a GED, then you may want to consider Alachua YouthBuild, a free six-month program that provides GED education, construction and job skills training — and a weekly stipend.
YouthBuild students receive a $100 a week, bus passes, child care vouchers, dental and medical assistance, and other services, including — if needed — help with rent, utilities, groceries and other necessities.
Carrie Tam, project manager at Alachua YouthBuild, said the program targets men and women ages 18-22 who lack a high school diploma or a GED certificate.
“Although we target ages 18-22, we accept applications for ages 16-17 and 23-34,” said Tam, adding that the program runs from July 6-Dec. 17 and from Jan. 5 to the end of June.
Applications are accepted year-round, but to be considered for classes that will begin in July, May 13 is the application deadline.
Other requirements include financial need, a desire to change your life, a commitment to rebuilding your community, and a commitment to a rigorous six-month program.
Tam said financial need is waived for applicants who have been though the judicial system, are aging out of foster care, or have an parent who is incarcerated. She said applicants with a substance abuse problem who are accepted in the program will receive intense substance-abuse intervention. Those who remain substance abuse-free would stay in the program.
“They’re getting paid to work,” Tam said. “And whatever they need to succeed we will provide.”
Tam said Alachua YouthBuild, which is funded through a Florida Institute for Workforce Innovation grant from the Department of Labor, is housed at the Chuck and Nancy Perry Construction Institute at northwest campus of Santa Fe College. While in the program, students take GED classes and construction classes, including classroom and hands-on instruction. They also help to build houses for Habitat for Humanity.
“We look for kids who are dedicated and can put in the time,” said Tam, adding that the application process includes a 12-page application, an interview and a very intense two-week orientation where the students get a first-hand look at the program. Students are accepted after the orientation period is completed.
“The program is very intense and we want them to know what to expect and to come into the program with eyes wide open,” said Tam, who also said the program has a very restrictive attendance policy and dress code.
Safety shoes and work shirts are provided, but the student is responsible for purchasing pants.
Brian Magness, the YouthBuild instructor and a construction professional specialist at SF College, said YouthBuild students, along with SF College students and volunteers from the University of Florida, participated in the construction of a Habitat for Humanity house partially built at Santa Fe College.
The house was trucked in two pieces to its permanent site in Breezy Pointe at 2403 SE 13th St. On site, Magness said students constructed the inside of the 1,200-square-foot house, which includes three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The house was built in partnership with the city of Gainesville, Santa Fe College, and Habitat for Humanity.
Magness said the house project has run smoothly and provided a “great teaching tool” for students in the YouthBuild program.
After YouthBuild, Tam said students can join the job force or continue their education at Santa Fe College and pursue any program they choose.
Tam said two recent YouthBuild graduates, Bandy Allen and Argenis Minaya, are continuing their education at Santa Fe. Allen is pursuing a degree in biology, while Minaya is pursuing a degree in health services. Another graduate, Wakina Vaughn, is working as a merchandiser at the Nordstrom Distribution Center located north of the Gainesville Regional Airport.
Vaughn said she’s waiting on her GED results before applying to Santa Fe College to pursue a degree in health services.
Vaughn said she especially enjoyed the hands-on construction segment of the YouthBuild program.
“Construction is a means to prepare them for the next phase,” Tam said. “They don’t have to stay in construction. We help them get to whatever goal — job or education — they want.”
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