PALMDALE – The U.S. Department of Labor has given Antelope Valley Youth Build an $810,000 grant to launch the Start Making A Real Transformation (SMART) Program for youths in the community.
SMART Director Rachel Konforty said the SMART program is based off the Youth Build model, in which students 16-24 obtain their high school diploma or GED and receive job skills.
“The Antelope Valley is one of nine program recipients of the grant through the Department of Labor in high crime, high poverty communities,” Konforty said. “It can not only give (students) a chance at developing their educational pathway and their career pathway, but also develop their leadership and leadership in giving back to the communities.”
Rossie Johnson, CEO of AV Youth Build, said housing for the students will be in Palmdale on 5th Street East and Q-5. Behind it, he added, will be a community training center available for anyone in the community to gain job training and life skills.
A core part of the SMART program is doing the crime and violence prevention work, Konforty said.
“It’s an important project because what we do here is going to have implications across the country for getting Youth Build programs and other programs like Youth Build funded by states in order to give other young people a chance to make different choices and a chance at a new life,” Konforty said.
AV Youth Build is offering classes beyond the Youth Build USA courses, which include solar, nursing and fire tech programs, Johnson said.
“We call our students ‘at potential,’” he said. “A lot of the times we hear ‘at-risk’ and all these negative things we attach to our young people, but we’ve seen them demonstrate every day in our schools and in the community that given the opportunity, the right chance, the right support system, they can achieve anything they want to achieve in life.”
Carlos Rubio, who will be a student in the Youth Build program, said it took him six years to come back to school.
“This is a great great opportunity,” he said. “It’s a second chance for myself to succeed.”
Rubio said he didn’t feel like he had a future until he moved from the San Fernando Valley to the AV three years ago.
Last year through AV Youth Build, Johnson said 54 out of 60 students graduated. Of those 54 students, 85 percent of them had a job because of the program.
He added the organization has developed partnerships with Home Depot and Paving the Way Foundation, a small non-profit focused on helping the development of at-risk youth, homeless, elderly, disabled persons and recovering alcoholic addicts.
“This (partnership) is not something we take lightly. This is not something you get into and you change your mind,” said Janie Hodge, CEO of Paving the Way Foundation. “These young people and the people we serve in our community will depend and trust us to give them hope and guidance and we don’t take that lightly.”
Youth Build Charter School is another partner that has a great way of introducing education to young people who have had trouble in traditional schools, Johnson said.
“It is a project-based learning curriculum. It’s all about hands on, taking concepts they would normally be frustrated with in a text book and putting them to real life experience,” Johnson said. “So it’s a great way of learning and it’s a great partnership for us.”
Mike Miller, City of Palmdale housing manager, said he and his wife have a philosophy concerning those whom the SMART program will benefit.
“When you look at these young adults, you have to remember they were once a person who woke up excited about that holiday morning,” Miller said. “They were at one time excited to have that first day at school in first grade. Somewhere along the way, we lost them. We have an opportunity through the hard work of Rossie (Johnson) and others who he’s brought to our community to capture and embrace them and help them to get that excitement and that spark back when they were a little kid.”
AV Youth Build also received a grant from AmeriCorps, which will help students be able to go to college, Johnson said.