Samuel Peebles, at age 18, has a lot to be thankful for these days. For two years of his life he spent time in and out of juvenile detention and juvenile prison. His father had passed away, and his mother was into drugs. Peebles really had nowhere to turn until his parole officer gave him the option to turn it all around by suggesting he enroll in Goodwill’s YouthBuild Tacoma construction career program.
“Within two months I felt a connection with the teachers like they were my peers,” Peebles said. “The teachers were friendly, fun, and taught me a lot about the construction trade. I’m seeing so much growth in the last few months that I’m thinking about what I can accomplish in three to five years.
“YouthBuild has shown me that my past is just my past and that I have a bright future ahead of me.”
Peebles shared his story with his classmates and guests at a ceremony on Wednesday, Feb. 28, that celebrated the 40th anniversary of YouthBuild U.S.A. and coincided with the completion of micro-homes built by the students and the announcement of 30 $17,400 student scholarships available to youth ages 18-24 interested in enrolling in the next YouthBuild program starting in July. Enrollment age has been changed from 16 to 18 to ensure youth have a better shot at jobs when they graduate the program.
The scholarships are made possible by a $1.1 million grant award from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration that will fund YouthBuild Tacoma for 40 months, through December 2019, and serve more than 60 students in a two-year period. Under this funding, each student will receive one year of follow-up and mentorship after graduating from the program. Goodwill and its partner agencies, Tacoma-Pierce County Habitat for Humanity and the youth REACH Center, provide a 25 percent match.
YouthBuild Tacoma helps young adults learn basic residential carpentry skills while also giving them the means to complete their GED and learn other life skills like leadership, conflict management, interview skills, cover letter and resume writing and job readiness.
In the current class that will end in July, students started out with 12 weeks of classroom and lab time. During this time they built two 96-square-foot micro-homes, which helped them to learn basic foundational carpentry skills. Starting this week, the students began 14 weeks of classroom hours as well as site work with Habitat for Humanity. The partnership with Habitat gives students the ability to apply what they’ve learned on several approved low-income family home sites.
“The students will spend two days a week on a Habitat site from now until early June,” said Audra Laymon, youth programs manager at Goodwill of the Olympics and Rainier Region. “It’s time-based, not project-based, to ensure that students have maximum exposure. They will participate in foundation building in the set up and pouring of the slab; they can assist in the marking of areas where plumbing will happen; a big part of it is focused on the framing of walls, the sheeting of the roof and roofing materials, the installation of windows and doors, exterior and interior painting, and interior millwork.”
The final four weeks of the program focus on individual transition and setting a pathway for each student, whether their interest lies in entering the job market or attending a trade school, community college, or four-year university for further schooling.
For youth deciding to enter the carpentry and construction trades, the jobs are plentiful. Neil Hunt, senior project manager for Skanska, explained at the ceremony the growing demand and career potential for quality employees. Jobs are plentiful because the workforce is shrinking due to retiring baby boomers and the reduced number of people joining the skilled and non-skilled trades. Hunt said Skanska and other companies are increasingly turning to programs like YouthBuild Tacoma to grow the next generation of young adults interested in construction jobs.
“Construction provides a well-paying, great career, even for those just graduating high school, with many opportunities and results that you can physically see,” Hunt said. “It’s one of the few remaining jobs where you can actually shape the world around you for the better and leave a lasting impression on society.”
Meanwhile, Riley and Kennedy Rowland are two brothers in the program who both attest to finding their calling. Riley said it was his probation officer who encouraged him to enroll in YouthBuild. Before enrolling, Riley said he struggled to complete his GED and within a month and a half of being in YouthBuild he earned it.
Riley encouraged his brother, Kennedy, to also enroll. Both said the one-on-one attention they receive from teachers in the program is unmatched. Riley is now looking at electrician unions for work. Kennedy has aspirations of starting a business in 10-15 years manufacturing and putting up aircraft hangars and use the funds from that to start his own airline.
“I always wanted to be a fighter pilot, but I was too tall,” Kennedy said.
Samuel Phillips, the oldest in the class at 25, was encouraged by the Tacoma Rescue Mission to enroll. The father of three children, Phillips was kicked out of his family at age 16 and left to the streets for much of his teenage and young-adult life.
“Before this, getting my GED seemed like a long shot,” Phillips said. “Before, I was really depressed, and now I’m really happy.”
Phillips’ plan is to join the residential carpentry union and start out as a flagger.
Goodwill is accepting up to 30 new students to form the next YouthBuild class in July. Students interested can apply now by contacting Ronisha Hamilton, YouthBuild case manager, at (253) 573-6819. Eligible candidates must be between 18-24 years of age.