Building Lives Through Education and Training


Tyrell Cannon of South Side  was on the wrong path before YouthBuild.

“I was waking up every day, trying to put money in my pocket,” he said. He worked odd jobs, mostly for short stints.“That was about it.”

Cannon, 23, now has his GED and a steady job as a maintenance worker with Arc of Onondaga, which cares for the disabled. He takes college-prep courses at the Syracuse Education Opportunity Center. He plans on enrolling at Onondaga Community College.

He owes his success, he said, to the Syracuse YouthBuild program. “After I got a part in the program,” he said, “I started really worrying about school. I got my priorities in check then.”

Cannon is one of 54 students who are part of the YouthBuild program in Syracuse. YouthBuild is a federally funded program for high-school dropouts. YouthBuild enrolls them in GED classes and helps them get jobs in construction by earning a pre-apprenticeship certification. Syracuse is among 240 programs nationwide.

The Syracuse program is funded by a 2009 grant from the Department of Labor. The grant was for $720,000. The grant ends in June 2012. The Syracuse program is run by Jubilee Homes. About six staff members from Jubilee Homes work on the program.

If the program doesn’t get federal funding in 2012 or pick up a sponsor, it may close, organizers say. The Syracuse program will be able to apply later this winter for the 2012 grant, according to the federal labor department. In addition, local organizers are looking to apply for a federal grant or raise more money.

“We’re actively looking at federal grants. We’re looking at a lot of collaborations with local agencies as well,” said Monica McLean, YouthBuild program coordinator in Syracuse. “If I went door to door and got enough money, we can have a YouthBuild program.”

To get into YouthBuild, youngsters must be between 16-and 24-years-old. They also must be at-risk, low-income and high-school dropouts. The program is separate from the Syracuse City School District, which operates its own GED program. But almost 100 percent of YouthBuild’s students are dropouts from the city school district, McLean said.

For YouthBuild, the selections process starts in September. Students must fill out an application and go through a series of interviews. Selected students enroll in GED classes in October. So far, the program has had two classes. The program lasts until June.

This year, YouthBuild did not bring in a new class, but instead is following up with students who are still in the program, said coordinator McLean.

In the program, students spend about 60 percent of the day in class and 40 percent in hands-on construction work. In the field, students earn a certificate recognized by the National Home Builders Institute, the home builders’ trade association headquartered in Washington, D.C.

The certificate gives students a leg-up, said Ebony Farrow, the lead construction trainer for YouthBuild at Jubilee Homes. “They come in with at least nine months of experience,” she said.

For the students to get the necessary work experience, YouthBuild partners with programs in the area, including the Syracuse Housing Authority, Syracuse Model Neighborhoods and Home Headquarters.

Home Headquarters partners with Jubilee Homes to renovate, demolish and build homes,  said Karen Schroeder, resource development and government relations manager at Home Headquarters. YouthBuild students see every aspect of housing when they partner with Home Headquarters, she said.

“They’re going to see some of the challenges that we face in this housing market,” she said. “It’s an incredibly aging housing stock here. Large homes, vacant homes, homes that have sat for periods of time without anyone in them, which ages a home exponentially.”

The students also meet local contractors. “Hopefully many of these kids in the YouthBuild are going to be working with these contractors that we’re working with,” Schroeder said.

YouthBuild graduate Tyrell Cannon of South Side encourages other students in the program to finish their GED classes. He proudly shows coordinators his paystubs. He credits YouthBuild with his future.

“I got a job I can retire from now. I got benefits,” he said. “I got a bank account now. I got a credit union account. There’s a lot of things that I ain’t ever start, that I got now.”

(Meghin Delaney is a junior with double majors in magazine journalism and political science.)


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