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Grant would bolster youth group

Construction-skills program hopes to get $40,000 through city.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:20 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 6, 2008

Columbia Builds Youth expects to receive a $40,000 grant through the Columbia City Council that would help it continue its efforts to re-engage teenagers and young adults in the community.

Columbia Builds Youth teaches construction skills to economically disadvantaged individuals while helping them earn general equivalency diplomas as well as find jobs.

“I’ve learned how to frame, paint and dozens of other things,” said high school dropout Aundra Brown, 20, as he took a break Tuesday from nailing together walls for a house at Worley and Oak streets. He described his life before joining CBY as “running in the streets.” For Brown, CBY offers an opportunity to work toward his GED and go to college.

Sabrina Malone, a 23-year-old mother of three, eagerly toiled under the sun on the construction site along with her fellow male apprentices. Malone decided she wanted to contribute to her family’s welfare even though her children receive support from their father.

“I didn’t want my kids seeing me sitting down doing nothing,” she said.

Now Malone earns $5.15 per hour working half-days. Apart from getting the hang of the construction craft, she is improving her job skills.

Malone, who hopes someday to own her own nightclub, said the sense of responsibility she has gained will help her reach that goal.

Roger Keene, a building trades instructor for CBY, said the backgrounds of the students he works with are diverse, but all of them have experienced trouble. “Before getting here, few of them ever used a hammer,” he said. “Most of them have problems in learning how to use a measurement device. But once they apply this on the field, they catch on really quick.”

Construction projects at CBY are punctuated by career-advising classes.

“We teach them how to market themselves,” CBY Director Gary Taylor said. “We also advise them if something comes up. For instance, if they get into financial difficulties, we will tell them what resources are available for them.”

CBY also keeps its trainees physically fit by requiring them to work out regularly.

The group tries to ensure all its graduates are placed in college or in a job.

“We’ll follow on with them, theoretically forever, but intensively for two years,” Taylor said, adding that six of the seven first-generation CBY graduates are currently employed.

CBY was founded in March 2003. Designed for economically disadvantaged individuals, mostly high school dropouts, the program is in line to receive a $40,000 grant through the council. The money comes from a larger Community Development Block Grant the city received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

At the council meeting Monday, the city’s Community Development Commission recommended the $40,000 grant. Community Development Coordinator Thomas Lata said the council probably will give a thumbs-up to the CBY funding when it approves the fiscal 2005 budget Sept. 20.

Although the commission’s recommendation is about $16,000 less than CBY sought, Taylor said the grant is critical.

“This will help us maintain Mr. Keene’s position,” he said, adding that CBY will seek additional funding from private sources.

Program participants have built two houses and handed them over to Central Missouri Counties’ Human Development Corp., which sells them for $85,000 apiece. The houses are marketed through the Columbia Affordable Housing and Development Program and are offered to low-income homebuyers.

CBY student Josh Philippe served seven months in juvenile detention before enrolling in the program on the recommendation of the Division of Youth Services. He said he had never liked school.

“I don’t have patience to sit in the class all day. I like working outside. You give me an outside job, and I’ll work all day long — just don’t get me inside.”

Philippe said he had learned his lesson and would look for a job after completing the CBY program.

Taylor believes the program benefits not only young adults but also the entire neighborhood. “The only way the community can change is if the youth changes,” Taylor said.


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