Path to a Future

YouthBuild offers a second chance to young people who dropped out of school or face other serious challenges.

The Honolulu city-run program provides hands-on training in painting, carpentry, plumbing, electrical and other real-world skills, while students work toward a high school diploma. YouthBuild also partners with local agencies so students can put their training to work, renovating or building low-income housing, while earning a daily stipend.

“We help people who are disadvantaged, whether they have limited financial resources, lack education or have backgrounds that are serious barriers to employment like a criminal history,” says Leinaala Nakamura, assistant administrator of the city’s WorkHawaii Division, where the YouthBuild program is housed. It is run by the city, with support from federal workforce-training funds.

“Seventy-five percent (of our participants) are dropouts, or individuals enrolled in an alternative education program. Besides having that status they need to either be a member of a low-income family or in foster care or a youthful or adult offender with a disability, or a child of an incarcerated parent or a migrant youth. Because we’ve been around for many years, we’ve developed some really strong relationships with schools. Many have tried other programs, but, for some reason, didn’t get their goals met, so they turn to us.”

Nakamura says the one-year program serves people ages 17 and a half to 24. They can be high school graduates who need further training or education in order to find solid employment.

“We give them the message that they have decided to begin a journey of transformation, that, ‘You folks are part of the next pipeline of employees and college students,’ ” she says.

The program has only enough money for about 37 people each year, Nakamura says. The curriculum is nationally certified and involves assistance from both the state Department of Education, which provides the diploma studies, and the Building Industry Association of Hawaii, which offers the construction-skills training. Each week, participants work on a real job site.

“We’re fortunate to have two on-site construction partners,” says Nakamura. “Self-Help Housing Corp. of Hawaii is one and right now we’re helping executive director Claudia Shay with a project out in Maili, building 75 homes. She helps low-income families, first-time homeowners, and they build their own homes using a sweat-equity model. Whenever Claudia has projects, we’re there to offer our services. Another partner is the state Public Housing Authority. With those folks we help renovate or rehab rental units.”

Nakamura says that, since the program began in 2000, it has been able to help more than 500 young people move into careers or education.

“We adhere to a mental toughness standard to make sure our young people are educated and voting, and know what their civil rights are,” says Nakamura.

All of the needed supplies – including a bus pass – are free to participants. “If one of our participants gets into an apprenticeship program, we buy the tools, the uniform,” says Nakamura. “We pay for the caps and gowns to graduate.  … And at least 70 percent of our folks can get into employment and keep it.”

Categories: Nonprofits