YouthBuild Louisville

Kentucky / April 17, 2012 / by The Team

"It makes a total change in the trajectory of their life, for some of them it's a life or death intervention, maybe the path that they were headed on they might not have ended up living to see their 24th birthday." - Caitlin Kannapell, Program and Curriculum Director.

YouthBuild Louisville is an organization that began its life in Executive Director, Lynn Rippy's living room in Kentucky. While it started small, it has now grown to help young adults aged 18 to 24 "get their lives back on track while learning a skill and building low income housing", explains Rippy.

The program runs for 10 months for each class of students and trains them in construction as well as providing them with the education they missed in their teenage years. 

YouthBuild Louisville gives the students an advantage on several fronts: higher level of education, and skills that will help them in their search for work. As the Education Coordinator, Ted Gatlin, explains, since “they are making decisions, as adults, to go to school, there's a different level of commitment." 

That level of commitment is carried over into the practical knowledge and expertise they learn as part of the program. The students learn about several different aspects of construction including wood working, carpentry, conservation and landscaping. 

The education component itself is slightly different to what the students were used to in high school. Unlike in school, YouthBuild ensures people who might otherwise have struggled with their education are able to catch up. Kannapell says that “they've gone through their entire schooling career being singled out and told that they can't achieve things or feeling like their not smart enough, that school is not for them and then they come here and they just excel.”

There are also classes on healthy relationships, where the students are able to talk about issues in their lives. The students are taught to vocalize their feelings and discuss problems in relationships, as well as what they truly want from a relationship. 

YouthBuild aims to build a strong foundation of education, knowledge of practical skills and self-confidence that will help these young students to avoid those pitfalls than can cause their lives to derail. 

Former student James Hooten explains that "before getting into the program, I was pretty much just out in the streets, I didn't have an education, I was a convicted felon, sold drugs, pretty much just a lost cause” but now he runs his own construction company and is graduating from college this year. YouthBuild was the “backbone, the support that I didn't have.” 

As well as studying, taking their GEDs and learning construction, the students are asked to participate in community service. YouthBuild Louisville is an Americorps partner and as such, the students can work towards a $1,800 educational grant after volunteering for 675 hours. 

The program is completely free of charge for the students, who are paid $100 per week for their time spent in the education classroom. They are not paid while they are learning their construction skills but they are paid between six and nine dollars per hour whenever they are on a worksite, gaining extra work experience. 

In the construction classes, the students build play houses, which are great projects for both the students and the community. The small houses allows the students to experience every step of building a house, without having to build a full-scale house. The play houses are not simple wood structures: they contain insulation, electrical work and plumbing - everything that would be needed in a full-sized house. 

Once it is completed, the house is donated to a child with disabilities, for whom the play house was specially designed. This allows the students not only to learn about construction but to feel that they are changing someone’s life. 

A current student, Samuel Thomas says that “Youthbuild was the best thing that ever happened to me. I love coming to school, I love feeling liked, and I'm learning something. I love asking millions of questions and getting the answers."

Many of the students who have completed the program return as volunteers, determined to make as much of a difference in someone else’s life as the program made in theirs. 

To learn more about YouthBuild Louisville, visit their website and Facebook Page or Twitter.