Nonprofit Receives $1.1 Million in Federal Funding to Help Local Workforce

YouthBuild construction trainer Gabriel Orengo works on his current project at 27 Booth Street in Central Islip.

By Anisah Abdullah and Paul Harding

$1.1 million in federal funding was approved by New York senators to YouthBuild Long Island, a program that helps at-risk young adults contribute to the local workforce.

The program, part of the nonprofit United Way of Long Island, will receive the federal grant from the U.S. Department of Labor at the end of this year, which will support 70 new students from Wyandanch beginning in January 2017. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer made the announcement.

“This funding will allow the United Way of Long Island invest the resources necessary to implement additional educational and skills training programs,” Gillibrand said in a press release.

YouthBuild provides its students between the ages of 18 to 24 the opportunity to earn high school equivalency degrees while simultaneously attaining real-world job experience. The initiative offers certifications in fields including construction, nursing assistance, home health and manufacturing.

This program has been successful in providing Long Island businesses with an educated workforce. In the construction track alone, 80 percent of its graduates found jobs in their field. United Way has partnered with over 50 local employers to provide internships, job shadowing and training opportunities for YouthBuild students through its Long Island Business, Labor and Employment Council.

Apollo Group, a green solution provider, and Congressman Steve Israel’s office have hired interns from YouthBuild.

“That’s the goal–that employers see that young people are ready to learn and ready to work and they are interested in hiring them once the program is over,” Elizabeth Morgan, director of YouthBuild, said.

Since YouthBuild began in 2007, it has helped approximately 350 students. Ricardo Midil, who graduated with a construction certification in 2013, interned at Riverhead Building Supply and worked at L.A. Fitness.

“Our Mineola location has hosted several interns and given them the opportunity to experience different areas of the business,” Tammy Luby, director of human resources at Riverhead Building Supply, said. “The United Way is helping to develop the future workers of America and we are proud to be a part of it.”

YouthBuild has primarily focused on construction training ever since its foundation. From installing insulation to building entire homes, students become well-rounded in both the classroom and the work site. With these students, the initiative has built and renovated homes in low-income communities.

“We build houses from the ground up,” Gabriel Orengo, construction trainer and former student of YouthBuild, said. “Students are involved in every single aspect of the house, from the siding to the foundation–every part.”

The initiative also receives support from local businesses. One such company, Energy Efficient Solutions, provided YouthBuild educators free materials and instruction on how to construct these eco-friendly and affordable houses. In the two years since then, YouthBuild has applied these techniques to their projects and received two awards for building energy efficient homes.

“Energy efficiency is the next level; it’s where it needs to go,” Peter Baumert, vice president of Energy Efficient Solutions, said. “That’s what YouthBuild is all about–taking individuals with no background and they say, ‘This is the way you have to do it. You can’t cut corners.’”

Baumert said he offered his company’s services to YouthBuild because he both admires its mission and believes that Long Island businesses will benefit from the program’s efforts.

“We need to support and get a hold of the younger generation. Because they’re studying to do anything else but a trade. It’s a major issue and it’s why we have labor shortages in the construction industry.”

With this federal grant, the program is now able to continue its efforts to help young adults create better lives for themselves and become productive members of their communities.