Partnership between the Project YouthBuild educational program and the Gainesville Police Department leads to the groundbreaking of a new Youth Empowerment Center

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Founded in 2009, The Institute for Workforce Innovation’s (IWI) Project YouthBuild is an educational, occupational and leadership program designed for low-income youths, ages 16 through 24, who have dropped out of school. Each program term lasts for seven months, with 22 students enrolled per term. Students in the program receive the opportunity to earn their High School diploma, three nationally-recognized construction certifications, a Presidential Service Award, and an AmeriCorps Seagle education award. Project YouthBuild also provides opportunities to volunteer in the community and assists students with affordable housing.

While completing the program, young people work each day renovating affordable housing in partnership with the Alachua County Housing Authority, and some students enter the program with a goal of entering the construction field permanently. Of the 22 young people who graduated from Project YouthBuild in April of 2016, 11 of them are enrolled in Santa Fe College for the fall semester pursuing majors ranging from Auto Mechanics, Emergency Medical Technician, Construction and Surgical Technician, among others.

Alex, a recent Project YouthBuild graduate, dropped out of high school at the age of 16 and enrolled in Project YouthBuild when he was 24. English was a second language for Alex but he did not let that challenge stop him from completing the program and earning an AmeriCorps Seagle Education Award, which granted him a $1,500 post-secondary scholarship. Alex went on to enroll in the Santa Fe College plumbing program and graduated in May of 2016. Currently, Alex is employed by Quality Plumbing in Gainesville. Despite the fact that every student who takes part in Project YouthBuild was previously not enrolled in school, success stories such as Alex’s occur often upon program completion. The two most recent class sections boast a graduation rate of 99%.

The Gainesville Police Department’s Brave Overt Leaders of Distinction (B.O.L.D.) program, which launched in 2010, has a similar mission to that of Project YouthBuild — to assist low-income youth in need of professional guidance to better their lives. The B.O.L.D. program provides case management services and focuses on the development of the whole person, including physical, mental, spiritual and educational aspects.

In 2007, GPD purchased the Banks Building, located at 635 NW Sixth St., using federal forfeiture funds. After teaming up with Project YouthBuild and seeing countless success stories, a partnership was created and the idea of creating a youth center to occupy the Banks Building was born. The building will be renamed the Banks-Cosby Youth Empowerment Center.

Both GPD and IWI are contributing $120,000 toward the renovation of the building to create the joint center which will be used to provide services to area youth. GPD will use federal forfeiture funds rather than taxpayer dollars to fund the project.

GPD Chief Tony Jones explained that combining resources from two different programs will result in great things for our youth. “We have to invest in our youth, period,” Jones said. “Our young people don’t get to choose the conditions they are raised in. It’s up to all of us to ensure everyone’s success.”

Jonathan Leslie, Project YouthBuild’s Director is also thrilled to see the partnership take shape. “Project YouthBuild is excited to partner with Chief Tony Jones and the Gainesville Police Department,” said Leslie. “This partnership will create outstanding opportunities for young people in our community.”

Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe said, “The partnership between the City of Gainesville Police Department and the Institute for Workforce Innovation leading to this celebratory groundbreaking is powerful evidence of what can be achieved when we work together to break the cycle of economic stagnation and segregation in underserved areas of our city.”

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