Bringing Home a Green Recovery for ALL: American YouthWorks

Authors: yingsun I got a chance to take to Melinda Wheatley from American YouthWorks in Texas. When she told me about their program, I thought, "This is exactly how it should work: great programs getting extra support from the Recovery Act money to put young people in green-collar jobs." Now, American Youth Works may be in a different place than your group in relation to the Recovery Act. But we should all be inspired that this kind of program, creating green pathways out of poverty for youth, is getting some extra support from the Recovery Act. And we can all learn from their aggressive — but targeted — approach to seeking funds. Below is a little of my conversation with Melinda.
Q. Tell me a little about your organization. A. American YouthWorks has been around for about 30 years. We work with at-risk youth — young people with social or academic issues that make it much more difficult for them to graduate high school. Things like pregnancy, parenthood, dropping out of school, adjudicated youth. We're competing for the future of these kids. And our competition doesn't come from other schools or social programs; it comes from prisons and cemeteries. Young people come to American YouthWorks because of our wraparound services. We have a charter public high school, a job-training program, a medical clinic and a parent-child development center on site. We give these young people a place to stay and the support they need to build a solid foundation for their lives. Our job training program has three branches. The Computer Corps rebuilds computers from recycled parts, providing working machines to people who need them while acquiring valuable computer skills. Our Casa Verde program builds green, energy efficient homes here in Texas. Our young people have built more than 100 quality homes from the ground up, and leave here ready for green-collar jobs in the building trades. And our Environmental Corps, funded by AmeriCorps, restores parks and trails all over Texas, and even in other states. In all three branches, the young people get real job training and experience that sets them up for the rest of their lives. We're all about self-sufficiency. We're teaching our students how to be adults, on their own, taking care of themselves. Q. So how is the Recovery Act affecting your work? How are you interacting with it? A. Well, when we heard about the Recovery Act investments, we knew there would be three different kinds of opportunities for us:
  • funds to support the work we're already doing,
  • funds to expand that work into new areas, and
  • funds to start new projects we've always wanted to do, but never had the resources for.
We looked at all of them closely and decided that, for us, the most responsible thing to do was apply aggressively for those first two, but not to pursue the last one. We didn't want to use Recovery Act money to expand in ways we couldn't sustain. We want to make sure that, when we grow, we can still give every single student the care and attention they deserve. But we think that if you're smart about it and plan carefully, this Recovery money could really help your program get better. For instance, we're very hopeful that the stimulus money will help make the Green Job Training Center we're building even better. And we have the chance to expand our green construction program to include a weatherization crew. Q. If you could choose one thing for other people out there, other programs, to take away from your experience with the Recovery funds, what would it be? A. I'd say that they should definitely apply for this support. This is exactly the kind of extra liFt we all need right now. But also — be smart, be careful. Know your true costs. Don't expand a program too quickly, jeopardizing its long-term health. That's the kind of thinking that crashed the economy in the first place.

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