(YouthBuild participants Nick, Brandy and Makayla recently celebrated their high school graduation | Photo courtesy of Heart of Oregon Corps YouthBuild)
The weather may not have merited ice cream last Friday, but the occasion certainly did: Heart of Oregon Corps’ YouthBuild program is celebrating the announcement of a $1.5M grant award from the U.S. Department of Labor. Heart of Oregon Corps is one of just 68 programs across the country selected for this highly competitive opportunity, and the only organization in Oregon or Washington to be awarded this year.
The YouthBuild grant, Heart of Oregon’s sixth since 2009, will be combined with local support to operate the program over three years, 2021-2024. In that time, the program will engage at least 84 youth, ages 16-24, from communities all across Central Oregon. Although these young people face a number of challenges such as poverty, childhood trauma, housing insecurity, foster care, disability-related challenges or teen parenthood, they come to YouthBuild to pursue their education, prepare for future careers and grow into community leaders. A network of schools, agencies, nonprofits and caring family members refer youth, who have to apply and prove eligibility, interview and compete for a spot in the program.
“YouthBuild helped me discover and reach my full potential,” shares James Miller, 28, of Redmond. “The program launched my career in the trades and inspired me to become a community leader.” Miller is a 2013 graduate of the Heart of Oregon Corps’ YouthBuild program. He now works as the Logistics Manager for Rithm Plumbing and serves as a Board Member at Heart of Oregon Corps.
“I’m so proud that YouthBuild has and will continue to teach and inspire the next generation of Opportunity Youth in Central Oregon who want to improve their lives and communities, just like I did,” Miller continues.
The Heart of Oregon Corps YouthBuild program celebrated this continued investment at their schoolhouse classroom in Sisters with partners and Board Members on Friday with a spontaneous ice cream social. Earlier in the day, YouthBuild participants were at Veteran’s Village in Bend, building housing and learning carpentry skills. Others were taking GED tests and finishing final assignments needed for their diploma classes. Young people are also currently building two affordable homes in Sisters with Sisters Habitat for Humanity. There is a lot to celebrate recently, with nearly 30 students earning diplomas and the nationally recognized NCCER construction certification this year, despite the challenges and program adjustments caused by the pandemic.
The evidence-based YouthBuild comprehensive program model propels disconnected youth to re-engage in school to earn their diploma or GED while learning the construction trades by building affordable homes. Leadership is also a key program element, ensuring that young people build resilience while developing a connection to their communities through service and volunteerism.
Youth earn a small living stipend and regional bus pass while attending the program for 12 full months. Two days a week, they build affordable housing and earn a national NCCER construction and Oregon BOLI-Pre-Apprenticeship certifications. Two days a week they attend academic courses designed to re-engage and accelerate their skills for GED and high school diploma completion. And one day a week, the whole program comes together for “Leadership Wednesdays,” a time to bond as a program community while completing service projects in their larger community. Then, program graduates create a ‘transition engagement contract’ to set goals and access YouthBuild wrap-around supportive services for another 12 months as they transition into employment, post-secondary training or degrees, national or military service and increased self-sufficiency.
Young people will build three single-family affordable homes for local families in need in the next two years. One will be built in Madras through a partnership with Housing Works, one in Sisters with Sisters Habitat for Humanity and one in Redmond with Bend-Redmond Habitat for Humanity.
Construction trades and business partnerships are also key; Oregon BOLI-Apprenticeship and Training Division and the Local 290 Plumbers and Steamfitters are committed partners in helping youth access apprenticeships. Heart of Oregon long-time business supporters like R&H Construction, Knife River, Kirby Nagelhout, Skanska, Hayden Homes, Mike’s Fence Center and Webfoot Painting, to help youth find internships and jobs. Youth also take their first college credit and explore campus and at the regional campuses of partner Central Oregon Community College.
“These young people demonstrate grit and leadership beyond measure,” shared Employer Advisory Council member Ryan Eckman and Board Member Gary North of R&H Construction recently. “When they reach their full potential as working citizens, all of us benefit. Our neighborhoods flourish with refreshed housing, public service projects, and young leaders who are equipped with the tools they need to thrive.”
Heart of Oregon Corps is currently recruiting eligible YouthBuild participants and compassionate adults from the community to serve as volunteer mentors. Youth cohorts for this grant will begin in October of 2021, and January, March and October of 2022. Apply today at heartoforegon.org.