Young people are remodeling this home to give themselves, and future tenants, a stable future.

CHAMPAIGN-For two years, the Housing Authority of Champaign County’s YouthBuild program has helped youth finish their high school diplomas, while renovating public housing properties.

Program managers also see the training program as an initiative to prevent youth violence.

“It’s a safe place where they can come in and talk, and we provide supports and services so they can cope with everyday things,” said Champaign County YouthBuild program manager Shevone Myrick.

“[We encourage them] to make their community proud through community service and generosity. ”

In an old house on East Beardsley Avenue on the north side of Champaign, 17-year-old Kobe Smith saw and tweaked a plaster wall.

Smith is one of 18 young men and women currently in the Champaign County YouthBuild program. A total of 69 students have gone through the program so far. Each student qualifies by being low-income, homeless, a juvenile offender, in the care system, or another vulnerable category.

Each group of students spends six months in teaching, construction classes and leadership training with the housing authority. They will get a stipend of $ 70 per week, with bonuses for meeting academic milestones.

And students leave a newly renovated home in the housing authority’s portfolio.

“We have scattered houses, about a dozen places all over the city. [These are] single family homes that suit us-usually-mothers, who will be self-sufficient by relaxing by getting affordable housing, ”said YouthBuild construction specialist Vincent Andujo.

Kobe Smith: I found a place where I mattered. Emily Hays/Illinois Newsroom

Smith signed up with YouthBuild for the chance to get his high school diploma early. He found a safe place to grow up.

“It made me a better person,” Smith said. “I really enjoy it because there’s a sense of belonging, you know. You look like something. No one is just sitting around and it doesn’t matter. ”

Smith sees YouthBuild as a great way to prevent youth violence. For example, he explains, it keeps him too busy to get involved in anything negative.

From the perspective of the program organizers, Smith is growing into the thoughtful leader he once was. Andujo describes Smith as “dynamite” and “intellectual.”

“He’s a leader, so we’re trying to put him in positions where he’s leading. When he first came to the program, he was not ready to accept that kind of role … But as we worked with him, he started to see what we were trying to bring out of him, ”Andujo said.

YouthBuild construction specialist Vincent Andujo. Emily Hays/Illinois Public Media

To encourage Smith’s potential, Andujo and YouthBuild career specialist Leonard Bryant provided him with books on improving his leadership skills. They built trust with Smith in the program’s leisure activities, such as watching movies. Andujo also updated his mentorship techniques through regular training.

Smith’s next step was college. The places that YouthBuild brought him on field trips – Southern Illinois University and Eastern Illinois University – are his top picks so far.

The housing authority has run YouthBuild since 2020 with a $ 1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Without grant renewal, the program will run out of money next year.

“The good thing is, we will apply again. So we end this grant, and then we’re at the same time in the spring applying for a new one to continue it, ”Myrick said.

There is enough money for two more groups of students next year.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow him on Twitter @amihatt.

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