At risk teens rebuild homes, and their lives

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Rebuilding south Mississippi has given some at risk teens a chance to rebuild their lives.

Youth Build USA and the Americorps Katrina Rebuilding program spend countless hours putting hurricane victims back into homes. At the same time, the program keeps wayward teens off the streets, and away from trouble.

Christopher Vaughan knows that cutting a two by four for a storage shelf isn't very exciting.

"No, it's not," he said after turning off an electric saw. "But it's good to learn it."

Hammering that board into a storage container isn't like banging heads with the guys back in the hood. Alex Nelson once hung out in the hood, and wound up in jail. Now, he's wielding a hammer, and trying to get his GED.

"Because in the hood, that ain't where you want to be at," Nelson said.

To the 42 young men in enrolled in the YouthBuild USA program based in Gulfport, learning how to rebuild hurricane damaged homes is hard work. Real work. Important work, "because it keeps us out of the hood, it keeps us doing right, keeps us on positive tracks," said Vaughan.

"And if it's done correctly, it will turn those 42 lives around. I'm learning construction," Vaughan said. "I'm learning how to earn responsibilities, learn how to really just push myself to do better things."

The YouthBuild Americorps group has been in Gulfport since Katrina, rebuilding communities and transforming lives. Alex Nelson was looking for a transformation. He said the people he thought were his friends ended up getting him arrested.

"It's hard out here. That's why I'm in this program, so I can change," said Nelson.

The Butler Snow Foundation rewarded YouthBuild USA's Gulfport chapter with a grant to support the organization's rebuilding efforts. The financial assistance will help put another hurricane victim back in a home. And it will remind the high school dropouts that they can make something of their lives.

Shawn Goriola is a YouthBuild USA staff member. He works closely with the troubled teens.

"A lot of them are trying to find direction in life, trying get some skills, keeps them off the streets, keeps them doing something positive," said Goriola.

And Alex Nelson says doing something positive sure beats what he was doing.

"I know I'm not going to jail again," he announced. "Being in this program, I'll be something positive."

The Butler Snow Foundation also made a contribution to the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center. Butler Snow is a law firm with offices in Jackson and Gulfport. Over the last 10 years, its foundation has donated more than $260,000 to groups across Mississippi.