Every morning at 7 a.m., Chennell Smith, 21, bundles up as best she can in her light winter jacket and makes the one-hour trek from her East Toledo apartment to the north-side site where she learns how to renovate houses. In the evening, she attends classes to earn her general-educational development diploma.
January’s record-breaking snow couldn’t stop her. Dangerously bitter cold couldn’t deter her. The lifelong critics — relatives, friends and acquaintances — who always told her she’d amount to “nothing” couldn’t break her resolve.
“It is a very long walk and very cold,” Ms. Smith said. “But I knew it would be a great way to better myself. I want a GED. It’s very hard to survive without a GED.”
Ms. Smith is one of 20 young adults participating in United Toledo YouthBuild, a six-month program for high-school dropouts ages 18 to 24, said John Page, a YouthBuild Specialist for the WSOS Community Action Commission, which offers the program in partnership with United North of Toledo.
Participants must agree to work on a renovation project, which not only teaches them basic trade skills but also life skills, said Mr. Page, who supervises the work site. Participants also learn the importance of teamwork, showing up on time, and being able to follow directions and orders, he said.
Many of the participants have never had a chance to learn these life skills and have never had a positive support network. Many of them are “damaged goods” by the time they arrive, he said.
For motivation, participants are paid $8.50 per hour. They receive an additional $25 per day for attending classes.
The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration.
The youths are rehabilitating a house at 1026 N. Huron St. Known as the “Carriage House,” the long-abandoned structure has been boarded up and in disrepair for many years, officials said.
When renovations are completed, the house, located in the Vistula Historic District, will be converted into two apartments.
The property was obtained by Lucas County’s Department of Neighborhoods, which sold it to United North for $213, said Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz. The city of Toledo also contributed funding from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program to help pay for its rehabilitation.
William Moore, 22, of Toledo said he joined the program because he was “looking for a better life.”
“A GED will give me another opportunity — maybe college, where I can major in sports management,” Mr. Moore said. “That’s always been my dream, but I never felt like I could reach it.”
The best thing about the YouthBuild program is that all participants support and encourage each other, he said. Mr. Moore’s greatest motivation, though, is beating society’s low expectations for him.
“There are more black men in prison than in college,” he said. “That drives me every morning to be a better person. I have two sons, and I want them to go down the right path.”
Kalvin McGlown, 23, and Montana Dean, 24 of Toledo said they enrolled in YouthBuild for the experience, not the money.
Mr. McGlown said that after he receives the program’s certificate of completion, he plans to enroll in college. His goal is to major in business management and automotive technology and someday open his own auto body shop.
He’s proud to mention that he has applied for a job with Chrysler and has made it to a final interview. YouthBuild has given him confidence to not just dream, but pursue his dreams, he said.
“Someday I’d like to help other young people on the street,” Mr. McGlown said. “I know what it’s like to be in the streets, to be in a gang. When I was 18, I spent 15 months in jail for a drug-related charge, but I should have gone to prison. Not too many people get second chances.”