Young people at YouthBuild Louisville do their daily chores, picking weeds in the garden and courtyard of their LEED-certified green campus—just one beat in the rhythm of this 16-year-old vocational training, education and community service program.
“It’s part of the garden,” says YouthBuild graduate and now intern Brittany Carson, 25, of the need to weed. “You gotta do it every day.”
Based on a national model with the dual mission of training young people in construction and building affordable housing, Louisville, Ky.’s YouthBuild teaches participants not only what they have to do, but also what they can do. Not just for themselves, but also for their city and neighborhoods. Program participants—many of whom are young parents—earn high school diplomas and acquire the skills to work in one of four career tracks: construction, environmental design, nursing assistant and culinary arts. What’s more, they learn valuable skills—such as showing up on time, being a team player and solving problems—that translate to any field.
“We’re making the connection between service, urban design, environmental issues and public health issues,” project manager Josh Poe says.
During her time with the organization, Carson has worked on low-income housing construction, planted 40 trees around the city to bring shade to the city’s “heat islands,” helped build a playhouse for a blind child, and this summer she even traveled to France’s Potager du Roi, or King’s Kitchen Garden, near Versailles. There she learned urban gardening techniques and other wisdom that seem to apply equally to plant life and to the budding young adults being nurtured at YouthBuild, such as harvesting every day so the plant can continue to grow.
“It’s really important to us, when we choose a young person for the program, that we take them on for the long haul,” says Executive Director Lynn Rippy. “That means we prepare them educationally, we prepare them vocationally and we prepare them socially to be really active members of this community and advocates for themselves and their children.”