The Philanthropy Collaborative

Regional Case Studies

Youth Build
Flint, Michigan

During times of economic distress, younger workers, particularly young African Americans and Hispanics, have more difficulty finding employment than their middle-aged counterparts. In January of 2012, the unemployment rate for workers aged 20 to 24 was 13.3 percent; the rate for teenagers was 23.2 percent, and the rate for Hispanic teenagers and African American teenagers was 24.9 percent and 38.5 percent, respectively.

That, combined with the American Midwest's struggles during the economic recession, presented unique, significant challenges for younger workers in Flint just trying to make a living. In 2011, Michigan tied with California, Florida, Nevada and Mississippi with the highest underemployment rate in the nation (averaging from 21 to 24 percent). In December 2011, Michigan's unemployment rate dipped beneath ten percent for the first time in three years. The unemployment rate in Flint that month was 9.6 percent.

"It doesn't get more challenging than the situation in Flint," said YouthBuild Metro CEO Ravi Yalamanchi. "The economic conditions here have been deteriorating since the early 1980s. And we've got an extremely difficult high school drop-out rate for kids." In 2010, Flint had a 52 percent high school graduation rate.

YouthBuild, which is a national organization with a strong presence in Michigan, provides on the ground construction training for youth between the ages of 18 and 24 who have dropped out of high school. In addition to construction skills, the program offers counseling, life management skills, job readiness education and placement assistance.

The economic situation in Flint is so dire that YouthBuild has more applicants than it can handle. "Without any outreach or marketing, we've got 400 people on our waitlist," said Yalamanchi. "We start with all 400 and narrow down to 70, expecting that half of them will not make through the program." That leaves Yalamanchi with an average graduating class of about 30. During the three years the program has been in operation, YouthBuild in Flint has produced 66 graduates, and this year's class has about 30 enrollees.

The balance of skills developed and services provided is an integral part of YouthBuild in Michigan. For trainees, half their time involves classroom work at a learning center while the other half is spent on site, learning and performing tasks like interior demolition, dry walling, painting and floor refinishing. Trainees are also required to undergo routine drug tests.

"When our enrollees come to us, their reading level is anywhere between 4th to 8th grade, and their math skills are between 3rd and 6th grade," Yalamanchi said. "But once they're in the program, we see about 60 percent of our enrollees get their GED. And they're coming out with good scores. We've seen kids score in the 2000s. We're proud of that."

In addition to classroom instruction and computer training, YouthBuild participants get hands on training in new construction projects with Habitat for Humanity and rehab projects with the Flint Public Housing Authority. They're paid a basic stipend of $125 every two weeks, and then get additional financial bonuses for finishing projects or completing additional elective classroom courses.

"We're learning more and more about how to approach the issues these kids deal with every day," said Yalamanchi. "They have families of their own and substance abuse challenges. The social challenges and the economic hurdles of our participants are not typical or common. They struggle with simple basic needs which are taken for granted by society. But we're determined to keep them on the right path." Out of the program's first graduating class, there were three graduates that landed full time employment, 12 that went on to post-secondary education, and one that enrolled in Michigan State University.

Mayor Dayne Walling of Flint, MI, is a strong supporter of the program. "YouthBuild is changing lives through an exemplary partnership with the nonprofit, foundation and business sectors in Michigan," Walling said. "Young adults are taking advantage of their new opportunities to get ready for good careers and to give back to their communities. The partnerships are a vital component in our community and economic development efforts that lead to better jobs, safer neighborhoods, and stronger regions."

In 2011, with Michigan facing severe economic hardship, YouthBuild Metro was selected by the Department of Labor to receive a $1,092,080 federal grant from the United States Department of Labor (Other YouthBuild programs across the state also received funding). The program was acknowledged both for its success in training individuals with clean energy construction skills and its important role in encouraging young people to focus on academic achievement. At the time of the announcement, Senator Carl Levin said that the program was, "a win for the youth who will get the training and support they need, and it's a win for the communities that will reap the benefits of a better trained workforce." Senator Debbie Stabenow said, "YouthBuild will help students across Michigan complete their high school or GED education and train them for the jobs of tomorrow."

Federal dollars are always welcome, said Yalamanchi, and he believes that programs like Youth Build are one of the best investments the government can make to create a better quality of life for these young adults. But the constant, steady support from YouthBuild Metro's foundation partner, C.S. Mott Foundation, has been critical. "Our foundation partners make this all possible," said Yalamanchi. "They are our backbone. Because of the Mott Foundation, the commitment of my Board of Directors and our partnership with Mott Community College and Career Alliance, we're able to continue operating and to expand. We've been very fortunate."

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