YouthBuild trailblazers win support of Wise County supervisors

Stephen Igo • Mar 5, 2007 at 11:21 AM

WISE - Members of the Wise County Board of Supervisors liked what they saw of the county's new YouthBuild program on Thursday. Ten proud, beaming, youthful faces were a little difficult not to admire.

The 10 pioneers of YouthBuild provided glowing accounts of their experiences in the program for the past six months - the inaugural class launched by the administrative push of the Lonesome Pine Office on Youth aided by a slew of partners including the Regional Adult Education Program, Wise County Housing Authority, Wise County Schools, Wise County Department of Social Services, Workforce Investment Board, Virginia Employment Commission and Flatwoods Job Corps Center, among many others.

YouthBuild "changed my life dramatically," a confident, well-spoken Rebekah Carty told supervisors during Thursday's workshop session. She said being involved in the program provided educational, job skill and other opportunities she never imagined possible six months ago.

Funded largely by the federal Housing and Urban Development agency, LPOY and other youth-minded social and civil organizations launched the local pilot of YouthBuild U.S.A.

Low-income young people ages 16-24 work toward their GED while learning job skills by helping to build or refurbish affordable housing for homeless or fixed- or low-income elderly and others. Strong emphasis is placed on leadership development and community service.

Carty explained the weekly routine over the past six months for Wise County's pioneer troop of 10 trailblazers that included a total of 40 hours of community service. At first, Carty said she was leery of the prospect but quickly came to love the experience. Enrollees earned $6 an hour, and $1 an hour of that was put into a bank account for each - the first banking experience for all.

According to the YouthBuild U.S.A. Web site - located at www.youthbuild.org - all enrollees are poor, and many have had experience with foster care, juvenile justice, welfare and homelessness. Participants spend six to 24 months in the full-time program, dividing their time between construction/ training job sites and class.

Allen Cress provided supervisors with a startling recap of his experiences. A number of field trips to local colleges and the like included a trip to the Wise County Voter Registrar's Office "where they told us how to vote," Cress said, practically causing supervisors to collapse out of their chairs.

Instead of undue political chicanery, of course, Wise County Registrar Tom Chester actually provided the students a class on the importance of citizenship and voting, and a training session on the county's new touch-screen digital high-tech voting machines. Still, Cress practically gave every supervisor a stroke one brief, thunderstruck moment before they collapsed in peals of laughter.

Cress also has the distinction of being the program's very first GED graduate.

"The feeling is phenomenal," he said.

Along with job skills and educational achievement, Cress told supervisors that he also "found a bigger family than I ever thought about having."

The supervisors meeting room doubles as a juvenile and domestic relations courtroom most days, and Mikey Hill said he was all too familiar with the surroundings because he was steering his life in the wrong, aimless direction with drugs and alcohol before YouthBuild. He was a hit, too, telling supervisors it was nice to come to that particular room in the courthouse for something to be proud of, as opposed to previous visits there to face a judge.

LPOY's Paul Kuczko said YouthBuild is a hands-on program. Young people participate in personal counseling, peer support groups and life-planning processes to help them "in healing from past hurts, overcoming negative habits and attitudes, and pursuing achievable goals that will establish a productive life," according to the Web site.

All supervisors praised the 10 pioneers of Wise County's first-ever YouthBuild class. Tacoma Supervisor Robby Robbins said their visit was "inspirational" and praised local adult leaders for doing a bang-up job with the inaugural class.

"This program should be carried on," Carty told the board, "for the many young adults yet to come."

There was little doubt Carty, Cress, Hill and their YouthBuild teammates won to the cause a new set of influential allies on Thursday in the Wise County Board of Supervisors.

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