September 26, 2009
By Teresa Taylor Williams9
Josh Stewart, 21, of Muskegon, works on sweeping debris from a house at 1439 Terrace in the McLaughlin neighborhood. Stewart is working on renovating the house as part of the Community enCompass Youth Employment Program, which he has been involved with for over six months. The programs gives area youth ages 18-22 the opportunity for part time work that benefits the neighborhood.The house on 1439 Terrace will remain under construction during the fall. And just as the structure is under renovation, so are the young people who are working on it.
Starting last summer, about five young adults began learning about home improvement. Outdoors, they poured cement for the porch and driveway, and installed windows outside. In the coming colder months, their focus will shift inside the two-story house on rewiring, heating, plumbing, and lead abatement.
The young adults are participants in YEP, a Youth Entrepreneurship/Employment Program run by Community enCompass. In its second year, YEP employs at-risk Muskegon young adults ages 18-22.
Several of them are parents, and attend school at local adult education programs.
The jobs in YEP range from construction to landscaping. It is a partnership of AmeriCorps, the Department of Employment and Training, Goodwill Industries and Community enCompass.
The experience working on the roof, learning to use different saws and tearing down walls has confirmed to David Watt, 19, that he wants a career in construction.
“I’m going to stick with this as long as I can,” said Watt, who said he uses the money to help support his 2-year-old daughter. Watt, a high school droput, plans to return to school to get his General Education Development diploma.
The first project last year was rehabbing a house at 235 E. Larch, where a formerly homeless family now resides.
The idea for the program was born out of concerns from people in the McLaughlin neighborhood area that young people don’t have anything constructive to do. The initiative was created when Community enCompass received a state grant to buy properties and turn them into affordable housing.
“We went door to door, asking neighbors what they envisioned for a better neighborhood,” said Sarah Rinsema-Sybenga, Community enCompass director. “It’s awesome to see kids from the neighborhood, working in the neighborhood. It’s incredible when a kid can take their mom or grandma down the street and say, ‘I’m working on that house to make it more livable.’”
Formed in 2008, Community enCompass is the product of a merge between Bethany Housing Ministries and Sacred Suds. The mission of the faith-based ministry, 1105 Terrace, is “to empower people and build community in the McLaughlin Neighborhood area by sharing God’s love, as we walk alongside neighbors, seeking justice and a better quality of life for all through long-term, sustainable changes.”
The work isn’t glamorous, and each worker may earn a maximum of 30 hours minimum wage. By the end of summer, the number of participants dwindled from 20 to a handful.
But the ones who remain have been faithful, and have bonded with one another, said YEP Coordinator Michaell Espinoza.
“Many of them have been homeless or had other issues. We’ve had some who just couldn’t cut it and stopped coming,” said Espinoza. “But the ones who do, they look out for each other. They share their personal lives with us, and we try to help them” with different community resources, he said.
“All we can do is provide the opportunity and the means for success,” said Espinoza. “It was definitely a call that needed answering.”
The students are grateful for the work and experience.
While working on the house on a hot August day, youth and young adults walked slowly past.
Josh Stewart, 21, said he hopes the work experience will help him find a job using his hands.
“I can’t see myself behind a desk,” said Josh Stewart, 21, while working on the outside of the house on a recent hot day. “Working here you learn so much. Plus, it’s some sort of income. It’s hard to come across a job in this city.”
Steven Grabinski, 20, worked on the Larch home last year. He has graduated from Glenside Adult Education, has a steady job, and expects to be in his own place soon.
It’s a step up for a young man who not long ago was on probation for something he did as a juvenile.
“The whole goal is to get you out on your own and to get better employment opportunities,” he said.
Working alongside the students was Jeff Glass, site supervisor and experienced builder. “We’re trying to teach them a trade. They’re sharp kids and they learn fast,” said Glass. “We only meet a couple times a week, but we want to give them as much experience as we can, in all aspects of construction.
“It gives them some sort of hope and something to do in an economy that’s so bad,” said Glass.
The lone female in the program is Katherine Slocum, 19. She worked on the Larch house last year, as well as the one on Terrace.
She attends adult education, and her daughter will be 2 in November. “It’s exciting to look at something and say, ‘Wow, I did that.’”
©2009 Muskegon Chronicle