ELIZABETH – Two members of Community Access Unlimited were part of the inaugural class of the YouthBuild Elizabeth program that marked its first commencement ceremony on Sept. 1. YouthBuild Elizabeth offers young people who either have dropped out of high school or are in the youth juvenile system with an alternate route to education and vocational training.
Eric Mack and William Thomas, members of CAU, were among the 30 graduates of YouthBuild Elizabeth’s inaugural class. The program, affiliated with YouthBuild USA, allows participants to earn a general equivalency degree (GED) and certification for construction from the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER).
CAU provides support services to people with disabilities and at-risk youth that enable members to live independently within the community. Programs for youth members include housing and vocational training. The support Mack and Thomas receive from CAU enabled them to enroll in YouthBuild Elizabeth while continuing to enjoy safe housing and guidance.
YouthBuild is an eight-month program in which students alternate weekly between classroom academic study and on-site construction training. Each student is assigned a case manager to help them remain focused and a stipend to assist with living expenses.
“The mission behind YouthBuild is construction training so young people are employable and education so they are able to attain their GED,” said Krishna Garlic, chief executive officer of Brand New Day, a community development organization located in Elizabeth of which YouthBuild Elizabeth is a part.
“They can become an apprentice in a construction company or some may move on to start their own business, such as handyman, and others will go to college,” Garlic said. “These are kids who have gone in the wrong direction and now they are talking about where they’re going to go to college or work.”
Thomas intends to use his NCCER certificate to find a job in construction before one day entering the culinary field. “I’m a very good painter,” he said. “I’m also good with framing. I had just dropped out of school. I wanted to finish my education and this gave me the opportunity.”
Mack plans to go to Union County College and then a four-year institution to earn a bachelor’s degree in business and computer science. “I feel accomplished, I feel motivated and overall I feel happy,” said Mack, who intends to pursue a career in the music industry.
Both Thomas and Mack said being members of Community Access Unlimited helped as they went through the YouthBuild program.
“It was definitely a push,” Thomas said of his CAU membership. “(YouthBuild) wasn’t easy at first. The push made it a little bit easier.”
“Being independent and having the guidance to stay on the right path and be successful in life helps,” Mack added.
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