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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, June 22, 2024


June 2, 2002 – The V.I. Housing Authority is getting ready to launch a federally funded apprenticeship program for youth.
YouthBuild USA, a program that has been around on the mainland for 20 years, is aimed at redirecting the lives of youngsters who have either dropped out of school or are having a hard time getting started with life after high school. An overview was featured as part of the monthly residents' meeting this past week at Oswald Harris Court.
"We're doing some ground work. This phase is the outreach phase to educators and community leaders to let them know what's coming," said Noel Lewis, special assistant to Al Simmonds, interim executive director of the Housing Authority.
By September, Lewis says, YouthBuild is expected to start taking applications from eligible individuals ages 16 to 24 who are interested in learning the building trades.
Ten of them will be chosen to work with two contractors, Apex Construction and William M. Carr and Associates, that are undertaking Housing Authority construction projects on St. Thomas. Apex is revitalizing units in the Tutu Hi-Rise community, and Carr is building 176 new affordable residential units in the Hoffman/Nullyberg area.
Another 10 applicants will be apprenticed to work on Housing Authority projects on St. Croix. Michael's Development is going to redevelop some 80 units in the Croixville apartment complex, and a contractor yet to be chosen will revitalize 194 units in Paradise to replace the Louis E. Brown Villas.
"The contractors who will be responsible for the building and the re-building of these communities are our partners in this project," said Lewis, the authority's coordinator for Equal Employment Opportunity and training programs.
YouthBuild got its start in New York City, where contractors engaged dropouts and unemployed youth in the renovation of abandoned buildings to provide housing for the homeless. But on-the-job training is only part of the program. The other part provides continuing education for partipants, preparing them for the test to earn a GED high school equivalency diploma. The result, organizers hope, will be a group of more productive, better educated youth with greater concern for the community at large.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is so convinced of the program's effectiveness that it sponsors YouthBuild initiatives nationwide. "It's a comprehensive approach to youth with community development at the core of the program," Lewis said.
The Housing Authority received a grant of $248,268 from HUD last November to implement the program locally. Partnering in the program are the Education, Human Services and Labor Departments; the U.S. Justice Department's Weed and Seed Office; and the participating contractors.
A similar project was tried last summer on St. John with students from Julius E. Sprauve School. "What we tried to do last summer was work with kids who were on the verge of dropping out," Sprauve's principal, Shirley Joseph, explained. "They had to work in the hotels and had to take a life skills course and remedial work as a preparation for going into a GED course."
Nine students enrolled, and eight of them succeeded in getting their GED's, moving to the U.S. mainland and either going back to school or signing up for Job Corps traning. Joseph said she was largely satisfied with the results of the program, put together with the help of the Education and Labor Departments with support from the St. John Rotary Club.
Because the YouthBuild program is new to the Virgin Islands, Lewis said, it's important to reach out to let the community know about it through meetings such as the one at Harris Court. He said he is hoping to reach his target audience — young people who generally don't attend such meetings — by talking to their mothers, their teachers and their housing managers.
Candidates for YouthBuild need not necessarily come from public housing, Lewis noted, nor do they have to be high school dropouts. "We're just looking for 10 youths" from each district, he said.
The Housing Authority also sponsors several other social, job development and educational programs specifically for its residents that designed to make people more self-sufficient. They include after-school tutorial and computer training classes.

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