National Americorps Week shines light on River City Youth Build

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ELIZABETH CITY — River City Youth Build was founded by Lenora Jarvis-Mackey in 2004. Since then the organization has grown substantially. It provides under privileged youth an opportunity to grow out of and away from inner city situations by giving them a path toward job skills and employment.

In honor of National AmeriCorps week, an outdoor reception was held earlier this week at the facility’s headquarters located at 303 W. Ehringhaus Street. It was announced at this function that not only were two of their members being flown to Washington, DC for the national meeting, but that one of their attendees was running for the position on the National Youth Build Council.


Brian Brown

Brian Brown

Most of the speakers were current or past members of Youth Build, one of which told a heartwarming story of youthful pregnancy and a feeling of despair until she found Youth Build which inspired her to achieve through hard work. She told all in attendance that the Youth Build organization had become a second family to her and how proud she was of everything that they instilled in her as a means of helping her up and helping her out of her original circumstances.

There were several notable persons in attendance, including Elizabeth City Mayor Pro Tem, Anita Hummer and Pasquotank Commissioner Betty Parker. City Manager Rich Olson and Police Chief Eddie Buffalo were also in attendance. Also attending was Brian Brown, from the office of United States Senator Thom Tillis, and Betty Jo Shepherd, representing United States Senator Richard Burr.

Betty Parker

Betty Parker

Youth Build programs engage unemployed young adults ages 16 to 24, most of whom have not completed high school and all of whom come from low-income families. Many have had experience with foster care, juvenile justice, welfare and homelessness. Youth Build enables them to serve their communities by building affordable housing, and assist them in transforming their own lives and roles in society.

Participants spend 6 to 24 months in the program, dividing their time between the construction site and the Youth Build alternative school. Because a comprehensive approach is called for, the Youth Build program has inevitably become a number of things at once:

Alternative school: Students prepare for high school diplomas, GEDs, vocational school, or college. The curriculum integrates academics with life skills. Classes are small, allowing one on one attention to students.

Job training program: Students build sound work habits as well as decision-making and time-management skills. They develop

Betty Jo Shepherd

Betty Jo Shepherd

career plans and prepare for job interviews. At the jobsite they received training from qualified construction instructors.

Community service program: Students build homes for homeless and low-income people in their communities.

Leadership development program: Participants learn to advocate for issues that concern them and their communities, and to take responsibility for themselves and their families. Students share in the governance of their own program through an elected policy committee.

Counseling program: Counseling and referrals are offered to address issues such as child care, transportation, or substance abuse. Students are assigned a counselor, whom they meet regularly.

Long-term mini-community: Graduates have access to resources and support to assist them as they advance their careers, go to college, build assets, and become role models.

Since 1994, 68,000 Youth Build students have produced more than 16,000 units of affordable housing. In 2006, more than 8000 young adults participated in Youth Build programs.

Nationwide, 90 percent of Youth Build students enter the program without their high school diplomas and 26 percent receive public assistance prior to joining Youth Build. In spite of these overwhelming odds, a study of nearly 900 Youth Build graduates found that 75 percent were enrolled in post secondary education or working at jobs averaging $10 per hour.

The average cost per participant is about $20,000 per year including stipends. This is less than many full-time options for unemployed young adults, such as the military, Job Corps, prison and many colleges.