The U.S. Department of Labor awarded the V.I. Housing Authority a two-year, $1.1 million YouthBuild Grant to fill educational gaps, provide job training and teach leadership skills to a total of 70 at-risk young adults across the territory.
YouthBuild is a national program that addresses core issues facing low-income communities: housing, education, employment, crime prevention and leadership development. The program is open to youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are low-income, have been in the juvenile justice system, are aging out of foster care, have dropped out of high school or are otherwise at-risk. The U.S. Virgin Islands is the only territory that is a provisional affiliate of YouthBuild USA.
Applying for the program takes little more than filling out an application, yet becoming enrolled in YouthBuild is a rigorous process, explained Carla Joseph, Section 3/YouthBuild Program manager for VIHA.
Joseph said, "They have to complete an application, which is based on income level basically. Once they complete the application, there is an interview process and then they have to go through two weeks of vigorous mental toughness and physical training. After that is completed, then they are enrolled in he program," she said.
"The ability to become enrolled in YouthBuild is up to them," said Joseph. "They have to earn their spots."
Once enrolled, young adults are ready to begin the nine-month program, which includes both academic classes and on-the-job training, she said.
Joseph said that, while not all YouthBuild members receive their GEDs during the program, after the program is completed, most young adults go on to finish their high school diploma and some even enroll in college.
"We see really great outcomes for our young people who have gone through the YouthBuild Program," said Joseph. "They really appreciate the opportunity to learn. I’ve seen how our young people have been transformed through the program and how they have transformed themselves."
YouthBuild also includes community service and leadership development components. This is the second time VIHA has received the federal grant and graduates from the authority’s first YouthBuild Program will provide key guidance and leadership to this year’s recruits, Joseph explained.
"This program really is a life changer for our young people," she said. "It’s an opportunity for them to transform their lives and it’s a leadership program, which prepares them for the V.I. community but also for the Caribbean region and the globe."
VIHA Director Richard Graham said, "This award is critical to our YouthBuild Program’s ability to strengthen and expand its academic and job preparation components as well as provide the necessary structured services to our disadvantaged.”
“The grant is the culmination of the hard work by VIHA’s staff, partners, as well as YouthBuild team members and, more importantly, our YouthBuild graduates," Graham said.
The two-year, $1.1 million grant from the federal Department of Labor will cover expenses for 35 young adults to complete the program over the next two years, for a total of 70 program spaces. The YouthBuild Program will be available in both the St. Thomas/St. John and St. Croix districts and will likely kick off in about four months.
Interested young adults can pick up an application at YouthBuild, VIHA or Department of Labor offices across the territory. The main YouthBuild site on St. Croix is located at the Aureo Diaz Housing Community and, for the St. Thomas/St. John district, at the Oswald Harris Court Housing Community.