YouthBuild Lake County: Building Better Lives

For the youth participants in YouthBuild Lake County, it’s not just a goal in the “green” homes they build, but in the lives being sustained in the process.

Based in North Chicago, YBLC was founded in 2003 to provide education opportunities and job training skills to youth in Lake County. YBLC is a local chapter of YouthBuild USA, a national youth development organization founded in Harlem in 1990.

“We strive to provide a supportive environment where young people can begin the process of changing their lives,” explains Lu Bailey of YBLC. “All of your program participants must be low income. Of the 60 or so participants we serve each year, typically over 50 percent dropped out of high school, 80 percent were involved in gangs, and about 35 percent are parents.”

Depending on funding, YBLC will run on average three training programs each year for young adults ages 17 to 24. The core program is focused on building a participant’s basic employment skills by helping them to obtain his or her GED, as well as providing counseling support, life skills and job readiness training.

“YouthBuild has given me a fresh start,” says Ashaunti Wiley, YBLC participant who grew up in North Chicago and was looking for a better path than the one she was on. “Sometimes stuff happens in life and you need someone to lift you up and push you to keep going. YouthBuild is the family that many of us didn’t have. It’s a place where we are accepted and challenged to change.”

Coupled with academic support, YBLC also helps trainees develop marketable construction skills. As a licensed general contractor, YBLC has received the Community Housing Development Organization designation from Lake County. Over the years, trainees have completed demolition work and built three affordable homes in North Chicago.

In 2009, YBLC began construction of its first energy-efficient home in North Chicago. This home (the first “green” home constructed in North Chicago) was the first of five YBLC has committed to build, assisted by a shared $250,000 grant from the Lake County Planning and Development Department to YBLC and Habitat for Humanity Lake County.

In addition to meeting Energy Star efficient standards, the home features sustainable landscape design, thanks to the Landscape Design Association of Illinois. According to LDA President Anne Flannery, “This was a terrific opportunity for us to reach out and give back. In keeping with the mission of YBLC, the students themselves did the planting while learning basic landscaping skills like grading, water reclamation, proper planting, and soil preparation.”

Concludes Bailey, “Every YBLC graduate represents a life lifted, a family saved from poverty and a community served.”