July 2016

Vocational emphasis allows at-risk youths to ‘construct’ job skills

This summer inside the walls of the Spanish-American Civic Association’s Tec Centro in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, students were measuring, cutting and hammering their way to a new future.

The youths, enrolled in Diakon Youth Services’ Turning Point Program, were taking part in an Introduction to Construction course designed specifically to open their eyes to job opportunities.

“Construction is a big industry in Lancaster County and the region and one in which they can get employment without needing a high school diploma or GED,” explains Tanisha Negron-Bailey, director of the Turning Point Program, which helps at-risk youths develop social, academic and work skills that lead to productive and positive lives.

‘You could see the pride they had in creating something with their own hands.’

“As much as we encourage the youth we work with to continue their education, for many of them that is not what they want to do. In response, I look for areas where they can obtain employment for livable wages and develop programs to match.”

Armed with grant funds from the Bankert Foundation, Negron-Bailey turned to the civic association to help create the introductory program. Working together with a certified instructor from Harrisburg Area Community College, she developed the 24-hour, multi-week course in which students review basic math skills, learn how to measure, cut and work with hand and power tools.

“They start off making a small box to get them familiar with measuring and cutting, then they make a step stool with two steps,” she says. “They must draw out how they want the stool to look, convert that into the appropriate measurement for lumber and then construct it.”

The key benefit of this type of vocational program is exposure to skills and work environments, Negron-Bailey says.

“Our goal is to provide these students with as many opportunities as possible, so they can gain full employment with sustainable wages,” she says. “Our hope is that by planting these seeds with our youth, we are showing them different options out there for them. Those who show great promise, maybe they will stay in high school and go into woodworking.”

A student works in the civic association's center.

Several students who participated in the program took advantage of the opportunity to be creative, adjusting the design to include a storage drawer or hand-painted decoration.

“The instructor was very pleased with their progress,” says Negron-Bailey, adding that all of the youths were engaged and happy with the training. “The greatest part was at the end when they were painting the stools. You could see the pride they had in creating something with their own hands.”

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