Sunday, September 19, 2004

New program helps youth build future

'It taught me about teamwork'

By Cindy Schroeder
Enquirer staff writer

COVINGTON - Until Antowne Brooks joined Northern Kentucky's first YouthBuild program this summer, the high school dropout had little self-confidence and no goals for the future.

Last week, the 19-year-old Covington youth credited the federally funded program with giving him a focus in life.

"Before I came here, I wasn't really doing much,'' Brooks told 50 dignitaries at a dedication of a building he's helping rehab on Holman Street. "This gave me a lot of self-esteem. It taught me about teamwork and initiative.''

These days, the teen who drifted through school is counting the days until he earns his GED and dreaming of when he can build houses for a living.

Northern Kentucky's YouthBuild program helps teens and young adults in unfortunate circumstances become self-sufficient.

Brooks and 15 other Northern Kentucky high school dropouts or youths with learning deficiencies will spend the next nine months juggling classroom lessons with a building renovation. When the 16- to 24-year-old youths finish, they'll have a carpenter's helper certificate, a GED and 17 college credits. They'll also be able to point to the turn-of-the-century Holman Street building that they are converting into YouthBuild's offices, with two two-bedroom apartments on the second and third floors.

Tenants now living in Housing Authority of Covington developments with good rental records will get the first choice to move into the apartments, said Bill Simon, executive director of the Housing Authority of Covington.

"I tell (YouthBuild participants) all the time, 'You might not want to be a carpenter, but this is building character and doing something good for the community,''' said Eddie Anderson, the on-site construction supervisor. A professional carpenter, Anderson worked in a juvenile facility for 12 years.

A 21-member collaborative led by the Northern Kentucky Community Action Agency received a $400,000 Department of Housing and Urban Development grant that was matched by about $450,000 of in-kind and monetary contributions from public and private sources. The collaborative hopes to double the grant next year.

When YouthBuild teens and young adults aren't studying construction at Gateway Community and Technical College, they're rehabbing the Holman Street building and making picnic tables and cornhole games to sell to the public. The program also includes leadership classes, counseling on family issues and access to resources to help with everything from child care to transportation to drug and alcohol abuse.

Participants get a $28.75 daily stipend and receive a $25 bonus every two weeks for perfect attendance.

YouthBuild participant Lori Seale, 20, a mother of a 3-year-old, is now just 20 points away from earning her GED. Known for her organizational and cleaning skills at the job site, she sees the YouthBuild program as helping her become independent. She wants to go to cosmetology school.

Heather Cummings, the 17-year-old mother of a 2-year-old, joined YouthBuild to provide for her daughter.

"As a young mom, I know I need to get an education, and that's why I joined the program,'' she said. "It gives you a chance to get some hands-on experience.''

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