Whether from trauma or difficulties in their personal or family lives, 267 million 16- to 24-year-olds around the globe are neither in school or employed. The U.S. accounts for 4.4 million of these “opportunity youth,” who may be characterized by their struggles with unemployment, poverty, and crime. But the nonprofit YouthBuild says, most importantly, they have potential.

“YouthBuild partners with opportunity youth to build the skill sets and mindsets that lead to lifelong learning, livelihood, and leadership,” says Gina Plata, YouthBuild USA’s chief program officer. “(Our) movement strives to create a world where all young people are seen for their potential, and power to transform themselves and their communities.”

As the organization’s website states, “Young people do not need fixing; they need champions who see them for who they really are, and who they can become.”

The organization’s mission recently received a new financial boost from a $8.9 million grant from AmeriCorps. Since 1994, more than 400,000 YouthBuild AmeriCorps members rebuilt or rehabilitated 12,000 units of affordable housing, refurbished more than 10,000 computers for low-income families and nonprofits, and earned more than $35 million in Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards to help pay for college expenses.

The grant from AmeriCorps is the final installment of a three-year grant and begins August 15.

How YouthBuild Works

YouthBuild USA itself includes close to 233 programs in 46 U.S. states and territories. Those who join YouthBuild spend about half their time pursuing their formal education goals including a high school diploma or its equivalent, numeracy and literacy skill-building and hands-on learning focused on livelihood preparation. They can also earn certifications and credentials towards apprenticeships and postsecondary education.

“As we make our way out of the pandemic, these young people will be leading the way, rebuilding our communities, and reclaiming our stake in each other. With access to an education and a support system of people who believe in them, there is nothing they cannot accomplish,” says John Valverde, president and CEO of YouthBuild USA.

Program participants learn job skills in industries such as construction, manufacturing, health care, tourism and hospitality, retail, and information technology.

Here’s how these skills are put to work:

Health care: Students serve as patient companions and/or advocates in nonprofit healthcare facilities for low-income residents.

Environmental conservation: Students contribute to the clean-up and/or restoration of parks, trails, waterways, roads and highways within the local community and participate in varied conservation projects within the local area that relate to the ecosystem. Their recycling efforts involve educating community members in proper collection and recycling methods; removing tires from habitats on public lands; collecting e-waste; and sorting and separating recyclable materials in preparation for processing.

Computer infrastructure: Students help bridge the technological digital divide for economically disadvantaged individuals. They refurbish and distribute computer hardware to low-income families and community organizations and provide computer literacy classes to community members.

Childhood development: Students support staff and young children at nonprofit daycare centers and drop-in centers in low-income neighborhoods. This support leads to improved early childhood education gains and provides much needed nurturing, support, and care to low-income young children.

“All young people who enter a YouthBuild program pursue a dual mission: to create a meaningful and productive life for themselves and their families, while giving their best energies to improve the world around them,” Plata says.

Education and skills development are just part of the program’s foundation. Students can also receive mentoring, career counseling, mental wellness resources and skills coaching.

“A key piece of the YouthBuild model is love. While the specific make-up of local YouthBuild programs may vary according to local circumstances, our emphasis on positivity, encouragement, and love are unwavering.”


Learn more about Youth Build’s global mission