Jan. 22, 2004 – A V.I. Housing Authority program to train underprivileged youth in developing construction skills has been canceled due to lack of funding.
The nine students participating in the program, YouthBuild U.S. Virgin Islands St. Croix, expressed their indignation at the cessation of the program in a letter to the media dated Jan. 15.
The St. Croix program, which was primarily funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was discontinued on Jan. 16.
Donna White, HUD spokeswoman, said on Wednesday that a cutback in federal funds was the main reason for the program's end. She did not comment on how the cutback may have affected similar programs nationwide.
YouthBuild USA is a national not-for-profit organization that supports a network of 180 national YouthBuild programs designed to help unemployed, undereducated and displaced youth in their late teens and early 20s. Its programs focus on education, leadership development, community service and entrepreneurship.
As of last spring, the territory through the VIHA had received $944,721 in YouthBuild grants from HUD — $698,453 for 2002 and $246,268 for 2001. The funding was to provide training over a two-year period for 30 participants on St. Croix and 30 in the St. Thomas-St. John district. (See "Hopes high for YouthBuild job skills program".)
The St. Croix chapter of YouthBuild USA was started last April in the John F. Kennedy Housing Community in Christiansted. Its aim was to help participants obtain their GED or high school diploma while teaching them building trades skills. The participants were to have completed the program this March.
"Based on what we were promised in the beginning, we still need to complete two of our NCCER [National Center for Construction Education and Research] certifications," the students said in their letter. "Some of us need to sit for the GED."
The students said they held several fund-raisers to help continue the program and that they still do not know what happened to the submitted funds.
White said the Housing Authority has made arrangements for the students who still need to earn their GED to be enrolled in the Education Department's Day Adult Education Program. And she said the University of the Virgin Islands has agreed to offer one or two courses for those who have already gotten their GED.
White also said that the on-site construction training would continue, and the participants would continue to receive their stipends of $125 per week.
However, she said, "the NCCER certification was never part of the program. That was for the instructors." The students are not at the educational level to attain such a certification, she added.
Kavida DeGrasse, a 22-year-old participant, said she doesn't agree with HUD's decision to enroll the students still lacking their GED in the Day Adult Education program. And she said that none of the youths are willing to participate in it.
"For some of us, it doesn't make sense to go, because this will be a complete waste of money," DeGrasse said.
According to DeGrasse, certification was promised them at the start of the program, "and we just want what they promised."
Since the students sent their letter to the media, DeGrasse said, more than a dozen businesses and several foundations have contacted them. "We're determined to move on; we're striving for that," she said.
Participant Monica Joseph, 20, who served on the YouthBuild St. Croix policy committee, said the program has helped her in many ways. "It taught me to speak out more in public, and leadership skills," she said. "It's a good opportunity for us to help one another, learn a trade and get our GED."
Derek Towers, a 22-year-old participant said: "We need to get recognized for the things we do. I want this program to continue so that everyone will know the good things we do."
One of the things that the students were able to accomplish was an on-site project in Masonry and Historic Preservation Construction Training at Fort Frederik Museum in Frederiksted.
"They should let us finish the program," 22-year-old Dennis Cornelius said.
Trevor Williams, 17, also said he would like to finish the program. "It has helped me in a lot of ways," he said. "It gave me construction training and GED training."
Chenzira Kahina, GED counselor for the group, said the program has been very beneficial in assisting the young people involved, all of whom are high school dropouts and many of whom have children of their own.
"It has helped them to be more pro-active toward their education and their community," Kahina said. "We would like for these young people to be given the opportunity to work and be of service to their community."
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