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Youth-mentoring programs get federal grants

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Since the late 1980's, Prevention PLUS, Inc., in Forest Park, has been diverting at-risk youths toward higher education and vocational training, by administering programs such as the Forest Park Street School, the Street School Academy, and YouthBuild.

The Street School and the Street School Academy help high school dropouts get their degrees and prepare for higher study, while YouthBuild, a national program, teaches and certifies young people in various construction trades.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that Prevention PLUS, Inc. of Forest Park has been awarded $382,500 in YouthBuild funding. According to Michael Andel, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), Prevention Plus, Inc., is one of 183 programs across the country to receive a portion of $66.7 million in federal funds set aside this year for YouthBuild activities.

"It was a competitive application," Andel said. "In addition to receiving academic and occupational skill training, these young people develop leadership skills and participate in community service opportunities.

"Many YouthBuild participants are also learning green building techniques, assisting with retrofitting existing homes, and discovering how to help make their communities sustainable and environmentally friendly," said Andel. "The local program is seen as being very effective in their work."

According to Andel, the money is an addition to $637,000 award that Prevention PLUS, Inc., received from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) in June of last year. "It's pretty significant," he said. "Usually, the ones that receive the larger amounts are cities the size of Atlanta. Clayton County can definitely use job-skills training. I believe they could probably train a lot of young people with that amount of money," he said.

"Kids who have had a history of less-than-stellar performance in a traditional school setting ... you put a skill saw and a tape measure in their hand, and you see a whole new, can-do attitude," said YouthBuild Construction Manager Brad Zimmerman. "Just being able to say we built this ... It gives them a lot of confidence and hope for the future.

"This money allows us to serve that high-risk portion of youths, and helps them achieve the success that may have eluded them in a typical classroom setting."

Alex Saldivar, 20, a YouthBuild student since April, dropped out of high school in the 11th grade. After being out of school for four years, Saldivar said, he is now working, getting his high school diploma, and going to college.

"Before this, I didn't think about going to college," he said. "All I thought about was working. It's helped further my goals."

Brad Zimmerman said students in the YouthBuild program provide free or low-cost construction labor to local Habitat for Humanity offices, as well many local churches. He said the extra funding from the Department of Labor will help buy the tools, equipment, and supplies needed to complete the projects.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention awarded another $75,000 to Prevention PLUS, Inc., last month. The money, according to organizers, will fund the Mentoring Youth Rites of Passage Experience (MYROPE), a new program which will connect Street School and YouthBuild students to mentoring, cultural activities, and personal development opportunities.

Tammy J. Miller, director of development for Prevention PLUS, Inc., said that throughout the program's existence, it has connected adult mentors to Street School and YouthBuild students, but never in such a formal capacity. She said the $75,000 grant will fund a full-time mentoring program director, program assistant, and cultural field trips and activities for the students.

"The mentoring piece is very much an added value," Miller said. "It does really help us make sure the students get sure and good footing when they prepare for the world outside of our program. Many of our young people come to our program, and they haven't had a lot of good experiences with work. We teach them how to be on time, how to control yourself at work, how to report to somebody ... all of these things are necessary to be successful."

Paula Palmer Green, coordinator of the MYROPE program, said the seven-month initiative will start in October, and that the program will seek 40 adult mentors to work with 40 students enrolled in various Prevention Plus, Inc., programs. She said volunteer mentors will be asked to spend at least 15 months working, one-on-one, with mentees, in order to prepare the youths for the next stage of their development.

"When our youth finish, hopefully, they'll leave more equipped, and will have a successful relationship with a mentor," Green said. "It is proven that successful people have always had a mentor who held them accountable, and helped them achieve that next level in life. They'll leave with a portfolio, they'll leave knowing what goals they want to pursue, and they'll leave with a life plan."

Prevention Plus, Inc., is presently taking applications for new YouthBuild participants, and seeking mentors and donations for its MYROPE program. For more information, call (404) 363-9600.