Area program offers high school equivalency

Students in class at YouthBuild. Photo: Keydra Manns
Students in class at YouthBuild. Photo: Keydra Manns

Funding restrictions limit other options at YouthBuild

When young adults walk into the YouthBuild office near The Hub they are in search of two things: career training and a second chance at receiving their high school diploma. So when Stephanie Torres walked into the SoBRO office where the program is located a few months ago, she was excited to have another chance at obtaining her high school equivalency (HSE). She was disappointed that the career options available to her through the program were limited to a job in construction or customer service.

“I just wish they had more options,” said Torres, who is pursuing her HSE while working as a paid intern at SoBRO. “I don’t want to work in construction and I don’t see myself continuing a career in customer service.”

YouthBuild, a national non-profit, receives the majority of its funding through grants. In late September the organization won a $700,000 grant from the Department of Labor. Every YouthBuild participant is paid a stipend and extraordinary students could potentially receive an internship that pays up to $11 an hour. This year there are 55 participants.

While $700,000 is a nice chunk of change, the program is required to split the funds with its sister location in Harlem. In addition to dividing the funds, there are restrictions on what YouthBuild is allowed to invest in. This makes it difficult for Program Coordinator Monica Rene to offer more career options to her students or even expose them to the latest technology.

“If I had more funding that wasn’t restricted I could do so much more,” said Rene, who graduated from YouthBuild 15 years ago and has been moving up the ranks ever since. “I am not even allowed to purchase equipment because one of my grants is ending. I would love to purchase iPads for my kids, but they would never approve them.”

With limited funds, YouthBuild does its best to cater to the requests made by dedicated students.

“I want to be a special effects makeup artist,” said April Solis, 24, a recent graduate of the program.

Although YouthBuild does not offer makeup classes, each student is assigned to a counselor to help guide them. Solis and Torres both said they have a passion for the makeup industry.

“My counselor made a call and we went on a tour to one of the top makeup schools in New York,” said Torres. “There were only four of us but we still got to go, and I now I start makeup school in January.”

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