Laaron Long, 24, came to the Goodwill Industries of Central East Texas (Lufkin) YouthBuild of the Pineywoods (YBPW) because, as a self-proclaimed “troublemaker” verging on being expelled or put in jail, he had no other place to turn.
“This program is the opportunity of a lifetime. You don’t find too many places that will support you and push you toward a goal you didn’t really have set. When you realize you have a goal they’ll push you towards it,” Long, a participant from Nagodiches County, said. Though he didn’t graduate high school, this program will enable him to gain his GED diploma.
The Lufkin Goodwill’s YouthBuild program is made possible by one of 74 Department of Labor grants distributed to community-based organizations throughout the country and will focus specifically on the construction industry. Over two years, it will help 64 18-to-24-year-old students in rural Angelina and Nacogdoches counties advance their education and job skills in order to achieve economic self-sufficiency. The area’s unemployment and poverty rates for this age group are 23.92 percent and 18.92 percent respectively, compared to national rates of 18.5 percent and 15.3 percent; the graduation rate is 67.83 percent versus 71.7 percent nationally.
“There’s such a need here for this population and age group; our program wanted to target young adults who had been in the criminal justice system. The program is allowing them to do something positive so they won’t re-offend, and they have a chance to better themselves through education,” said Nikki Roberts, program director of YBPW.
YBPW participants will build affordable housing for local low-income families, participate in construction-related service-learning activities that connect learning with civic engagement, and develop relationships with construction-industry employers who will serve as their mentors. The program includes 30 hours each week of education, construction and leadership development components, plus additional service-learning and civic engagement, mentoring and counseling, and case management time.
As of April 1, 2013, Stephanie Sargent was the only woman of the current 27 participants, though she said that doesn’t change anything for her. On probation for theft, Sargent was having a hard time finding a job when her probation officer told her about the program. After completing this program she wants to go into construction like her father.
“I’m looking forward being more involved in the community, and not being judging for what we’ve done in the past, showing that we are good people still,” Sargent said.
The first two cohorts, one per county, started on February 18, 2013. At the end of the program, participants will receive their GED, a Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate Training (PACT) certificate and their construction credentials from the National Association of Homebuilders. They will also be placed within three months of graduation in relevant employment or connected with future education and training.
The Lufkin Goodwill is able to run the YouthBuild program with the help of many community partners. YBPW will serve young people who are referred to them through the partner agencies —Angelina County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, Nacogdoches County Adult Probation and the Deep East Texas Workforce Development Board. Students will attain their GED through a partnership with Angelina College Adult Learning Cooperative, learn job skills by working on construction projects for Habitat for Humanity, and will be paired with mentors from the Deep East Texas Association of Builders (DETAB). DETAB has indicated that there are major skills gaps in their current applicant pool, and they are in need of workers who have additional construction skills.
In partnership with Habitat for Humanity, the participants will construct two homes in each county annually. The construction training will take place on four vacant properties currently owned by the two Habitat partners while classroom training will occur at Goodwill facilities in a classroom that participants helped construct.
“When these young people finish the program they’ve gone from a drain on our county resources to an asset for our county resources. They walk out, they’ll get a job for sure, and their earnings will then contribute seven times more to our community. We’re going to affect the Youth Build participants in a physical, a mental and emotional and in a spiritual manner,” said Marc Sheldon, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Angelina County.