Students in Tampa program get skills, support and jobs
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER
Anna Edwards has come a long way. The 25-year-old, who grew up in West Tampa, got pregnant at 16 years old. She dropped out of high school because of it, following the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, also teen mothers.
“They paused their education. They paused everything they were doing when they started having kids. But I’m like, you know what, I’m going to go for it. I’m not going to stop, I can’t stop,” said Edwards.
That desire led her to Tampa Housing Authority’s YouthBuild program. After seeing her brother’s success with the program, she decided to give it a shot. Four years later, the 25-year-old has a steady full-time job, multiple construction certifications, and is a homeowner.
$1 million grant
Edwards says she owes it all to the YouthBuild program.
“It gave me motivation. It gave me ambition, hope,” said Edwards, who now works as an administrative clerk for the housing authority.
Funded through a competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, the Tampa Housing Authority started implementing YouthBuild back in 2009.
The agency recently received a 2017 grant of approximately $1 million during the next three years.
The program is based on a national model that aims to help young adults change their lives while changing their communities.
‘We don’t judge’
It focuses on youth 16-24, primary those who may have dropped out of high school, have had trouble with the law, and/or need guidance and direction.
John Arroyo, Tampa Housing Authority’s YouthBuild Program manager, describes the curriculum as one of second chances.
“We’re unique in the sense of, we meet our students where they’re at. We try not to sugarcoat anything. No matter what they’ve done in the past, no matter what type of environment they live in. We don’t judge.’’
260 in 46 states
According to Arroyo, the program is among the top programs around the country. In fact, Arroyo was chosen to participate in YouthBuild’s Director’s Fellowship Program. Only 10 directors are selected nationally for the two-year program. YouthBuild USA has 260 sites in 46 states across the country.
Tampa Housing Authority’s YouthBuild runs every six to nine months with about 20 students.
Each semester is referred to as a cohort. If they have not graduated from high school, students can work toward their GED.
At the program’s core, is construction skills, which everyone learns – whether male or female.
Students can then choose the Construction Plus track, which allows them to move in another direction such as becoming a certified medical assistant (CMA) or cosmetologist. They can even build up volunteer hours through AmeriCorps and earn money for secondary education.
Good success rate
Life and leadership skills are also key components to the program.
Every week, students participate in workshops where they learn about topics, including finance and health. Along with some tough love at times, Arroyo and his team puts it all together to create a recipe for success, if followed correctly.
The Tampa Housing Authority’s YouthBuild program has an 82 percent student success rate for placement in education or employment and a 81 percent rate for students attaining a degree or certificate.
“When I see one of my students come in the first day – sagging his pants, talking crazy, having a bad attitude, can’t control his anger, a year later, he’s coming back smiling, laughing and just saying, ‘Hey, I got this job, the guy says I’m doing a great job, I got my GED – there’s no better feeling. It’s like your child has graduated,” said Arroyo.
Another success story
One such student is Allen Thurman, who graduated from the program five years ago. He joined after spending 15 months in prison for selling drugs.
“What really got me into it was that I had really wanted to continue my education, finish school and find work so I can support my daughter,” said Thurman.
Through YouthBuild, he earned his GED and landed a full-time construction job, just three months into the program. That job ended up paying for Thurman’s college tuition. The 28-year-old recently graduated with his fire engineering degree. He can install and soon design fire sprinkler systems.
Thurman calls the program a life changer. He often goes back to the community and speaks to current students – sharing knowledge and advice.
His advice to students, “Take all the help you can receive. Listen and have an open mind because you’re looking at it, and somebody else, they might see something different that you don’t see.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.’’