Building success


YouthBuild student Donise Lee secures the window trim of a house in the Porter's neighborhood. Lee is one of 45 students in the program, which provides on-site construction training and classroom lessons.

Jon M. Fletcher/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, November 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 1, 2002 at 12:38 a.m.
A small part of the city's Porter's neighborhood is getting a face-lift, courtesy of a dozen local teenagers participating in a program that builds skills in the classroom and the workplace.
A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant has allowed the youths to enroll in the YouthBuild program, which splits their time between a construction site and an academic setting. The yearlong effort allows participants to earn a general equivalency diploma, or GED, as well as pick up skills for a career.
On SW 5th Street in Gainesville, YouthBuild members are working alongside local contractor Flanagan Cos. to frame a ranch-style home. Students spend alternate weeks on the job site and in classrooms at Santa Fe Community College's downtown campus, said Eric Harrell, the project's director.
"With the current grant, we're working toward 40 students to put through the program," Harrell said. "We've renovated houses before, but this one is brand new. When we arrived, the foundation was already in place, but we've done the framing, windows and roofing."
YouthBuild participants have also rebuilt a pavilion and playground area in Kanapaha Memorial Park, and are active with Habitat for Humanity projects, Harrell said. Some graduates of the program have gone on to take jobs with local companies, and others are continuing their studies at SFCC.
People between the ages of 16 and 24 are eligible for the program, and at least 75 percent of the participants are high school dropouts from low-income households. All YouthBuild enrollees spend 32 hours each week either in the classroom or on a job site, and all must pass a construction safety class, submit to a drug test and show up every day.
"We require them to do it like a job," Harrell said. "They must be here on a regular basis."
One recent graduate of YouthBuild, Joshua Harris, said he plans to pursue a career in the building trade in the future.
"You learn a lot about construction and teamwork (in the program)," said Harris, 18.
Students are paid $7.50 per hour for their construction work to start, and their wages slowly rise as their participation in the program progresses. The YouthBuild program is administered locally by the Gainesville Housing Authority, which has received more than $1.5 million in YouthBuild grants in the last four years, said Sally Lawrence, the grants' administrator.
The housing authority is given between 18 and 24 months to spend each grant, Lawrence said, and those who successfully complete the program participate in a graduation ceremony.
The recent receipt of a $377,916 grant will be used to usher in a new group of participants.
"What's amazing is that when most of these kids are recruited into the program, they have dropped out of high school and usually don't have a job," Lawrence said. "They don't have much direction. When they're done, they've gotten their lives back on track. At our last graduation, one student even wore a tuxedo. For a lot of kids, this is the first time they've tasted success."
Joe Coombs can be reached at (352) 338-3102 or coombsj@gvillesun.com.

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