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YouthBuild's Success Is A Game Changer For Graduates

YouthBuild house

Levon Jackson didn’t have grand life plans besides relaxing and hanging out with friends. But after joining YouthBuild Louisville and graduating this May, he said life has changed.

“I have multiple options,” Jackson said. “I want to go to Berea College, the carpenter’s union, and I also want to own my own barbershop."

Since 2001, YouthBuild has offered low-income youth education, leadership and job training in construction, nursing, environmental education conservation and the culinary field.

The program’s mission has garnered support by the city and the community. That mission also earned YouthBuild a $1.5 million expansion, slated to open January 2018, and lured Josh Poe from a career in urban planning to be the organization's project manager.

To Poe, the program succeeds in many ways. In the past eight years, he said 80 percent of graduates have maintained employment or enrolled in college. Although YouthBuild doesn’t directly address violence, Poe said it helps young people escape hardship.

“We get people out of poverty,” Poe said. “That’s what YouthBuild does. We can’t say we’re going to deter violence, but we can help people get out of poverty. And if people get out of poverty, if you look at our recidivism rates, they’re not returning to crime.”

Poe said only four percent of graduates with prior criminal convictions have committed another crime, compared to more than 31 percent of previously convicted Kentuckians in 2012, according to department of corrections data.

YouthBuild is finding success through its construction program. Since it began, Poe said the program has built 13 new houses, rehabilitated 19 vacant properties and weatherized or improved 79 homes.

In overcast, 90-degree weather, Poe, Jackson and fellow graduate Andrew Shields improved one of those homes. Shields said before joining YouthBuild, he couldn’t keep jobs and his endeavors failed. Like Jackson, Shields said his life has improved after joining the program.

“It has really changed my life drastically,” Shields said. “I was down in a hole with nothing — with no type of trade. Now, I can build a house.”

Before they climb ladders, drill and hammer the home into improvement, its tenant Mary Ann O’Leary-Tubb offers bottled water to help the men stay hydrated in the scorching heat. O’Leary-Tubb said the house belonged to her mother, a staunch advocate for community projects like YouthBuild, before she died. She praised the project for its effectiveness and its impact.

“It’s a very, very good program,” she said. “It supports the kids, it gives them something to do, gives them motivation, gives them something else to learn to have a job. Plus, it helps the neighborhoods.”

Jackson and Shields plan to attend Berea College together next year and continue working. The two endorsed the program, urging other young people to enroll and stay positive.

“This program actually changes lives," said Shields. "If you give it time and effort. and you stick with it, you will see results no matter what."

“When you’re in those moments when you think no one cares about you, or you have no hope left, just keep your head up,” Jackson said. “I’ve been through a lot, and it’s a blessing that I’m here now.”

YouthBuild enrolls up to 40 young people between ages 18 and 24 for a nine-month program. More information about the program is available here.

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.