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Habitat Opens a Window for Disconnected Youth

Habitat Opens a Window for Disconnected Youth

Everyone knows about Habitat for Humanity’s great work building affordable housing for low-income families. But now, it’s doing twice the good. Habitat for Humanity of Greater Waterbury just launched its Youth Build program, which provides valuable job training to disconnected youth, while speeding the time it takes to complete a home.

It’s estimated that there are 46,000 “disconnected” youth in the state – that is, those who are not in school and not working. Any number of factors (poverty, alienation from school, or time in juvenile justice or foster care) can lead them to an early dead-end in life, leaving them with few skills and decades ahead with limited options to support themselves.

Habitat got the word out about the Youth Build and received a good response, but recognized that a typical job interview would likely not be a reliable indicator of the potential of these young people. Instead, applicants enter an eight-day group challenge, called mental toughness boot camp. Thereafter, candidates are evaluated and selected based on attendance, attitude, effort, teamwork and aptitude.

“These five traits are essential for students to succeed in the program,” says Arlene Greco, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Waterbury. Even though many demonstrate the needed work ethic and are accepted into the program, Greco notes that most begin somewhat defeated and withdrawn. A few months down the road, though, all that all changes when they see what they’re capable of accomplishing and learn the enjoyment of working with their hands.

Every participant must build a scale model home, using standard blueprints, before they ever set foot on a Habitat home site. It’s an opportunity to see how all of the parts of a home work together, and to practice accuracy and precision. One model builder talked about how much he disliked math in school. But now that he understands its application on a job site, it interests him.

The Youth Build program is no gut course. It requires 1,000 hours of participation, including GED, safety and trades instruction; earning of a National Center for Construction Education & Research certification; and hands-on experience at a Habitat build site. But once participants come out the other end, they have the creds to seek a well-paying job that’s in demand.

Future Habitat homeowners benefit, too, because there’s no down time waiting for the next crew of volunteers. With the Youth Build, there’s always someone onsite moving their home’s construction forward.

While the program in Greater Waterbury is just getting off the ground, other Habitats running similar programs have seen a 90-percent graduation rate. Waterbury’s grads will have access to apprentice and on-the-job training opportunities, as well as scholarships. Some are even thinking longer term to dreams they didn’t expect to achieve, such as opening a restaurant or being a cosmetician, Just when they thought the door was closed on their future, Habitat opened a window.  Liberty Bank Foundation is proud to help make that possible!