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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

March 18, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Dropouts build futures with hammer, nails and job skills

Courtesy YouthBuild

Courtesy YouthBuild

Six months ago, the future looked bleak for 18-year-old Esequiel Sandoval. He had dropped out of Highline High School, believing that he lacked the credits to graduate with his class, and bounced between several part-time jobs — McDonald’s, house-painting. Whatever might net him a few dollars.

But next week, he will graduate from YouthCare’s YouthBuild construction apprenticeship program — with his high-school diploma, a carpenter certification and the chance to earn starting wages of about $21 per hour.

“It’s a huge turnaround for me,” said Sandoval, who is awaiting the birth of his first child. “If I wasn’t in this program, I probably wouldn’t be doing anything.”

All of the 125 young people who have been through the Seattle-area program during the past five years could say the same. But amidst the thundering din surrounding education reform, most of the racket focuses on sending more young people to college. Pathways for success outside the classroom earn only a rare mention.

For 36 years, YouthBuild has been training high school dropouts across the country in the construction trades, paying them to build homes while they learn and earn high school credentials at the same time.

“That made it a win-win for me,” said Sandoval. “I’ve got friends who are looking at nothing.”

YouthBuild has been in King County since 1994, for the past five years administered by YouthCare. Since 2009, more than 100 young people from the Seattle area have successfully completed the free, six-month training program, 65 percent of them earning full-time employment within three months.

“These are some of the hardest-to-serve kids we’ve got,” said Executive Director Melinda Giovengo. “Kids who are truly on their last chance, people who really wouldn’t be given a second chance. And YouthBuild is giving it to them.”

At times, the program is equally transformative for its staff.

“I always start out real tough,” said Stephen Hinch, a carpenter who turned carpentry-teacher through YouthBuild. “But by the end these guys are like my sons. Yes, I got hired to teach construction, but it’s much more than that, so much more.”

It costs about $10,000 to train each student, and most orientation sessions attract 50 to 60 young people for a scant 15 slots, Giovengo said. Until last year, the program was funded through federal Department of Labor grants. But under sequestration those dollars disappeared.

Giovengo organized a fundraiser to cover the current class through graduation next week. But after that?

Giovengo and her team are applying to the City of Seattle for funding. Stay tuned.

Comments | More in News | Topics: dropouts, YouthBuild, YouthCare


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