Grant boosts job training and GED program for struggling youths
YouthBuild, a Lowell-based organization will be able to continue and expand its work helping troubled young people continue their education and prepare for jobs, as a result of new federal funding.
By John Laidler Globe Correspondent,Updated January 17, 2020, 7:49 a.m.
Students enrolled in Community Teamwork’s YouthBuild program work in the kitchen.
LOWELL – Community Teamwork was awarded $1.44 million by the US Department of Labor to support its YouthBuild initiative, the largest of three 40-month grants announced in Massachusetts to organizations offering the federal program.
YouthBuild provides job training and education toward a GED for students who have either dropped out of high school or were at risk of doing so. Those completing the nine months of training and classes also receive job placement and retention help.
“We are extremely excited,” said Carl Howell, division director for housing and homeless services for Community Teamwork, an anti-poverty agency that has served nearly 400 students in its YouthBuild program since taking it over from another organization 12 years ago.
Howell said it is notable that the new grant came just as Community Teamwork’s previous YouthBuild grant — in 2017 — was expiring. He said agencies typically have to wait a year or more for new funding.
“It shows what we are doing is appreciated and well-regarded in the federal eyes,” he said.
The fresh funding will enable his agency to enroll a new cohort of students in February, and to increase the number of participants from 64 to 80.
Community Teamwork, which assists about 50,000 people annually with services ranging from emergency fuel assistance to early education, runs its YouthBuild program out of its Youth Opportunities Center in downtown Lowell.
Participating students can choose between hospitality/culinary arts and construction for their job training, which is offered on alternating weeks with their GED classroom instruction.
A spacious workshop at the Lowell building provides room for construction students to frame walls and other training work, and for the culinary/hospitality students to learn cooking and other skills.
Students earn a $125-per-week stipend to help cover their living expenses and are not charged fees. But each week they take part in community service projects, from repairing fences to assisting with Habitat for Humanity home building projects. (Students learning construction also work at other times on Habitat projects as part of their training).
About 85 percent of students in the nine month-period achieve the goals of completing their job training — which earns them certificates to work their fields — and earning or moving toward receiving their GEDs. After they graduate, students remain in the program up to two more years for help in finding and keeping a job, and other services as needed.
“I think it’s the non-traditional setting that really helps,” Howell said of the program’s good results, noting that the more intimate setting discourages the kind of disruptive behavior students might exhibit in a large high school. He said their hands-on work, the services available to them, and the fact that the program is voluntary are also factors.
Rafael Cotto, 21, had been expelled from two area high schools when he enrolled in the program in 2018. Through his job training and the help of YouthBuild staff, he was hired as a cook at a local restaurant, and later as a school bus driver. That led to his current employment as a construction trainer in the YouthBuild program.
Calling it his “dream job,” Cotto said, “I love working with kids” and using the example of his own experience to motivate them. “I strive for excellence every day and to show them it is possible to do what they want to do.” Meanwhile Cotto has earned his GED and now attends classes nights at Middlesex Community College.
Cotto credits YouthBuild for the strides he has made.
“It’s a life-changing experience,” he said of the program.
John Laidler can be reached at email@example.com.