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Building houses, hope in teen-agers

Program teaches young people on sites for low-income housing

Posted: Wednesday, October 11, 2000

John Brevick of Sitka kicked back and took a year off, ready to give up on ever having a high school diploma.

Then Young Alaskans Building Affordable Housing (YABAH) made him an offer he couldn't refuse, an offer to earn high school credits on a construction site.

"I wasn't really interested in finishing school until I did this program," Brevick, 21, said Tuesday. "Last year we did the house from top to bottom, from the foundation to drywall to the roof. I got some good construction skills, and I made a lot of good friends."

His on-the-job training with YABAH was a revelation.

"There was a lot of applied math, a lot of use of a tape measure, all kinds of applied science," Brevick said. "Math wasn't my strong subject before, but I am pretty good at applied math now. I never really liked math until I found out how it works in life at the construction site."

More young men and women like Brevick will have the opportunity to learn life skills while building homes because YABAH, a specialized building program of the Southeast Alaska Guidance Association (SAGA), has just received a grant for $399,706.

The grant comes from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, and is a Youthbuild grant aimed at supporting YABAH, founded two years ago.

Like the guidance association, YABAH targets at-risk youth ages 16 to 25. Some have had run-ins with juvenile authorities; most are high-school dropouts, said founder and director Joe Parrish. YABAH engages youth in the construction of single-family, low-income housing from the ground up, while earning their high school diploma or GED. YABAH participants are completing their second house in Sitka.

HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo announced the grant Sept. 27, saying, "This program gives new hope to high school dropouts, enabling them to build housing for families in need while building new careers and new lives for themselves."

This is the second Youthbuild grant SAGA has received. Its first, awarded in 1996, resulted in the construction of two single-family homes in Fairbanks.

"We have been running on a shoestring for the past two years, but this grant will allow us to fully staff the program and fully fund it," Parrish said.

YABAH employs seven to 10 youths. The grant will allow expansion to 14.

"Our goal is to build a house in Juneau in the next year and a half. And we want to start building in rural communities," Parrish said. "We have talked about Craig the most because there seems to be quite a need there, but have no definite plans yet."

YABAH was started in partnership with Tlingit & Haida Regional Housing Authority, Sitka Prevention and Treatment Services, Pacific High School and Baranof Island Housing Authority.

The program has been a great success, Parrish said.

"With YABAH, 100 percent of the kids have finished school and at least 50 percent have gone on to construction jobs," he said.

He feels the components of the program are attractive to youths with no definite plans for the future. The basic components are housing if needed, a regular stipend as they work, and a $2,500 scholarship to go on to technical school when they graduate.

"Essentially, they are paid to learn, paid to earn a diploma, and then get the $2,500 AmeriCorps award on top of it. It's a pretty good incentive," Parrish said.

SAGA was founded by Parrish 15 years ago as a localized youth version of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the Great Depression.

Its recruiter, Hilary Strodell, is available at 1 800 789-6172.



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