Program Steers At-Risk Youth In Right Direction - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Program Steers At-Risk Youth In Right Direction

GULFPORT (WLOX) -- A program that helps steer at risk youth to a better path got a big boost on Friday from Wal-Mart. The major retailer donated $100,000 to Youth Build AmeriCorps Gulfport. The program teaches young people to reach out to their communities.  

Sheet rock. Roofing. Painting. These young people are learning all the basics of construction.

Youth Build Director Rene Soule said, "They can be the best employees out there that employers will just snatch as they become available."

Youth Build teaches at risk 16 to 24-year-olds jobs skills and community service as the young people repair the hurricane damaged homes of senior citizens.

"I have had seniors come to sights in neighborhoods where we're working and said 'It's just wonderful to see young African American men doing something positive,'" said Soule. "Of course, we have other nationalities in the program, but we know based on statistics our young African American men are particularly struggling."

Wal-mart officials say they were impressed enough by Youth Build's GED program to make a $100,000 donation.

Brian Thomas of Wal-Mart said, "This program with the education of young people and helping them get their lives on track along with rebuilding communities that are in need just was a perfect fit to what our foundation stands for."

"We have to be able to help that person be whole," said Soule. "We can't just put all of our training on job skills or just education and not also deal with the soft skills training like financial literacy, character development and those things that employers look for and especially leadership. We need leaders."

Soule said, "This gives them a second chance. This gives them the opportunity to have some self esteem and some confidence and to give back to their very own community."

These days Myron Hicks is painting houses but not long ago he says he was a troubled kid constantly having brushes with the law.

"It wasn't a good life," said Hicks. "But I want to beat the stereotype because everybody says where we're from we never going to be nothing."

The young people can frame, sheet rock and even roof a house.

Timothy Sams said, "I know how to build a house now."

Participants say it feels good to not be building, but to be building for their neighbors many of whom lost everything to the hurricane.

20-year-old Brian Anderson said, "To see my home destroyed like that from a natural disaster is just heartbreaking. So me giving back to my community, whether it's Gulfport or Biloxi or anywhere around the Gulf Coast, it makes me feel good because I know I'm lending a helping hand."

Hicks is planning to go to school in Florida next year to pursue his dream of being a music producer. For the first time in a long time, he says he's excited about the future.

"Before I came in the program, I didn't have any guidance so I was going to jail," said Hicks. "And now I'm in the program, they told me it's a lot more to life than just going to jail and drugs and money. And we don't even get paid that much. I'm just, out of the good of my heart, giving back to where I live to make where I live better."

By Danielle Thomas

 

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