A look at how the Metro Flint YouthBuild program is creating hope and opportunity for local youth

A look at how the Metro Flint YouthBuild program is creating hope and opportunity for local youth

For more than a decade now, Metro Flint YouthBuild, has been a stepping stone to sustainable careers and meaningful employment for hundreds of Flint’s most needful youth between the ages of 16 -24.

The YouthBuild movement began in Harlem, New York in 1978. The program was created to revamp decaying housing stock while providing education support and skills training for disadvantaged youth.

In short, YouthBuild administers an array of interconnected support services that directly leads to academic recovery via a GED or a high school diploma, work readiness with training and certification in skilled trades, and career development through job and college placement and ongoing follow-up and advocacy.

The YouthBuild program has trained more than 300 students in the construction trades, a high growth, high wage industry. Trade associations report that  there are currently more job openings in the construction industry than job candidates. Photo courtesy of Metro Community Development

To date, 314 Flint youth have matriculated through the local program. And while there are many stories of success, 25-year-old Kaleb Johnson’s is currently one of the most impressive.

In June 2018, Johnson was referred to GST Michigan Works! through the Metro Flint YouthBuild partnership. Johnson was a former ward of state and high school dropout, who had recently moved to Flint to live with his sister with the intention of turning his life around.

Despite a number of personal challenges that could have knocked him down, Johnson held steady and decided that he was going to pursue career training and his GED.

GST Michigan Works! provided career coaching, outside agency referrals and general support to assist Johnson during the program. His career coach Kim Streeter and the Metro Flint Youth staff were immediately impressed with his positive attitude and undeniable communication skills. They also recognized that Johnson had a natural knack for leadership. He quickly become a positive role model to his peers in the program.

Angela Beaugard, Metro Community Development’s Vice President of Development, has witnessed the power of the YouthBuild program, which has helped transform the lives of participants like Kaleb Johnson “inside and out.” Photo courtesy of Metro Flint

Angela Beaugard, Metro Community Development’s Vice President of Development, has known Johnson since July of 2017 when she first started working at Metro and has witnessed how the programs have helped transform his life, inside and out.

“He has blossomed into this incredibly articulate young man who is insightful and very considerate,” she says. “As he has achieved various milestones he continues to serve his community and provide support for his peers.”

Johnson hit his first major milestones last November when he attained his GED and completed Building and Construction (BCON) training. He was immediately scooped up by W.T. Stevens, Inc., who hired him for an internship as a residential renovation chief supervisor until January 2019.

Following his internship, Johnson was hit with an unfortunate setback when he found himself homeless. Thanks to the efforts and care of his career coach and the Metro Flint YouthBuild staff, Johnson is no longer homeless and is now settled into a permanent residence. More good fortune came his way when Johnson was hired as a general construction laborer for Premier Plastics, Inc. in February 2019 at $13.00 an hour.

In May, Johnson was one of five Metro Flint YouthBuild delegates chosen to go to Africa and serve other homeless youth on the streets of Nairobi as part of a community service project.

“YouthBuild has affected my life in so many ways. Not only have I gained my GED and employment, but they’ve also helped me obtain multiple certifications and I’ve developed interpersonal, leadership, and job readiness skills,” Johnson says. “I’m 25-years-young with a start-up business venture in the moving industry, I’m involved in the construction industry working on rehabilitating houses and I’m soon to be venturing into the real estate industry.”

Omar Muhammad, YouthBuild mentor and Metro Community Development Vice President of Development Angela Beauguard, Kaleb Johnson (center) supported homeless youth on the streets of Nairobi as part of a community service project of YouthBuild. Photo coutesy of Kaleb Johnson

Beaugard and her colleagues are determined to help more of Flint’s youth as they have done with Johnson. There is certainly a need for their services.

According to the 2019 Flint and Genesee County Point in Time Count there were 100 persons under the age of 18 who are homeless and 35 people between the ages of 18-24 who are homeless, on any given night.

Beaugard adds that 41 percent of people who are homeless in the county are homeless for the first time, and shares another other sobering fact. “Youth that are homeless tend to struggle with stable housing as adults. Homelessness is often generational,” she says.

Her organization’s focus includes actively advocating for the concerns and constituents of the community, revitalizing and strengthening neighborhoods with focused, targeted resources, and partnering with organizations to assess, plan and implement strategies for community development.

To get the job done, Metro Flint YouthBuild partners with many local agencies that are doing work to stabilize and provide beneficial options for youth. They include: Mott Community College, Action Management, GST MI Works, WT Stevens, Court Street Village, Genesee County Opportunity Youth Coalition, Ruth Mott Foundation, City of Flint and Mott Children’s Health Center.

“We are currently working on an application for our next Department of Labor grant and are actively surveying area service providers for potential inter-collaborative partnerships, mission alignment, and program synergies,” Beaugard adds.

Johnson is overflowing with gratitude for all that Metro does and continues to do. One of his hopes is to be able to one day help those who have made him a success. “My plan is to ultimately create an empire so that I can create life-long stability and opportunity for others, and to give back to my community and the organization that pushed me to newer heights,” he says. “I am where I am today because of this amazing organization, and moving forward I feel like my future has no ceiling.”

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