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UCC’s YouthBuild Students Give Back To The Community One Refrigerator At A Time
United Community Corporation’s YouthBuild program offers its students opportunities to not only learn hands-on job skills aimed to discover their career pathway, but it also puts community service at the forefront of the learning experience.
That focus on giving back to others has helped YouthBuild students see the impact of their work in Newark through UCC’s community refrigerator initiative which launched earlier this year. The initiative brings food directly to members of Newark’s food deserts by stocking refrigerator units installed at four separate locations around the city on a routine basis with staple goods such as milk, juice, cheese, fresh fruits, and vegetables at no cost. The initiative provided YouthBuild’s construction students the opportunity to design and build protective structures from scratch for the refrigerators, helping them further develop their leadership skills by allowing them to see and understand the importance of working to build their community.
“Being together and seeing that we're doing something important for our community was very touching and moving for me,” said Tashana Williams, a YouthBuild student who helped build the community refrigerator structures. “Stacking the refrigerator with so many different options like with dry goods and stuff that families actually eat was important. We need eggs, milk and simple things every day to cook up for kids’ breakfast and meals.”
These types of projects also help YouthBuild students become catalysts for positive transformation in their community. That focus on community is interwoven into the curriculum at UCC’s YouthBuild program, which is aimed to prepare students for their future and allow them to create their own path.
While the nationwide program is touted for its job training and certification programs, YouthBuild also puts an emphasis upon secondary education if that is a path that the student chooses. Students also get to participate in outreach projects like UCC’s community refrigerator initiative, which allows them to put their hands-on job training to work.
“It’s good to be able to make a community refrigerator and to have people be able to get food when they need it,” said YouthBuild student Zahkar Kee. “It’s good to know that I’m doing something new and that I'm doing a good deed by helping the community and to help others out.” YouthBuild students are also seeing the fruits of their labor. When YouthBuild student Keyla Gonzalez attended UCC’s ribbon-cutting ceremony to debut its fourth community refrigerator location at La Casa de Don Pedro’s 39 Broadway site in Newark’s North Ward, she said that watching community members take goods from the unit left a profound impression on her.
“It was great to be part of that and to know that people will benefit themselves from that food, especially people who possibly cannot afford everything that they want. It's nice knowing that I can contribute to someone else's happiness,” Keyla said. Keyla noted that when she saw UCC’s community refrigerator initiative highlighted during a television news broadcast several days later, she felt a reinforced sense of pride in her work.
“It was very touching to see that it was on the news,” she said. “That's something that I had a hand in and was being seen by the world. That was very powerful for me.”
The experiences YouthBuild students gain from their hard work help back their efforts inside the classroom, too. YouthBuild students can be found inside the classroom weekly at the Clubhouse building located at 205 Spruce St., learning valuable skills such as leadership development, participating in case management group sessions, life skill sessions, job development, and community service. The program itself allows students who need their high school diploma to obtain it while providing pre-apprenticeship training programs in construction, computer tech, and medical and dental tech. Once the pre-apprenticeship is completed, the young adult will work with YouthBuild’s job developer to find the right placement and will work with an alumni specialist/mentor for a year as they break into their new field. Alongside job skills training, YouthBuild students dedicate a portion of their time inside the classroom to working on themselves. During one Monday morning class session, UCC YouthBuild instructor Tasmeya Hall could be found teaching students the value of their worth.
“They do this to get in the habit of explaining how they're feeling and what their motions are for the day,” Hall said.
As part of this learning session, Hall asked the students to come up with responses centered around the word, “affirmation” by using prompts such as “I will” and “I am” to encourage them to achieve their goals.
“I am confident,” one student said.
“I am a leader,” another student called out.
By taking the skills learned inside the classroom out into the real world, students credit the YouthBuild program to being better prepared and equipped for the real world.
“I'm very thankful for the opportunity that YouthBuild gives me because not only did they help me with achieving my high school diploma, they helped me find a career opportunity and helped me find things that I'm actually interested in as a career choice,” Tashana said. “Without that, I don't know what I would be looking to do. YouthBuild opened my eyes to bigger opportunities. I have a bright future."
“This program gives you many options to do something in life,” Keyla added. “More programs out there should give that opportunity to young people who might look like they don't want to get anywhere, but sometimes you just need that little push.”