By Sarah Hodges

“It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something. May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of personkind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely.”

Leo Buscaglia

Starting three months ago, 20 young participants of YouthBuild Waimaānalo took on the task of building new small houses for the homeless. They’re working alongside general contractor Gary Silva and his subcontractors, who mentor the kids in the field. Those very structures are now being incorporated into Waimānalo Kau Hale, behind Blanche McMillan’s home. As the youth are putting up the structures, they’re helping to bring a new village to life during this time when solid shelters are so much in need. U’ilani Fonoti, program director for YouthBuild says about this effort, “It has been an amazing experience to see how Waimanalo comes together and works to solve problems. It’s a testimony to the community support, that without funding we’ve been able to get this homeless village up and running.”

Together we are stronger, and that includes looking out for everybody in our communities. YouthBuild Waimānalo launched in 2017, receiving a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s YouthBuild, with the initiative to empower young people who would greatly benefit from the support. YouthBuild Waimanalo helps at-risk youth between ages 16-24 years old to earn a GED, learn important skills that prepare them for the workforce, and gain the confidence through on-site experience to enter Hawai’i’s construction industry or move towards other goals that they may set during the course of the program.  The program offers its services to youth who have dropped out of high school, are facing homelessness, adjudication, aging out of foster care, or have disabilities.

The program not only prepares youth with practical construction skills for this crucial industry in Hawai’i, but also arms them with a restored self-worth and sense of personal responsibility. YouthBuild mentors teach construction skills in the hope that one day the upcoming generation will alleviate Hawai’i’s current and worsening housing crisis. The program plants a seed by empowering the young.

Before embarking on house building this year, the kids of YouthBuild helped families on Hawaiian Homestead land with home repair and smaller construction tasks, such as widening door frames. All of their work forges a deepening connection to the community. Through the program these at-risk youth can form powerful relationships with potential employers, developing skills to make life changing contributions to others in need.

I’m enormously heartened to learn about these noble efforts in our community, and to witness people coming together with the shared vision to lift up those who may be struggling, and ourselves along the way.

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