Newport News training program teaches both job and life skills to young adults

Newport News

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — A job training program in Newport News is teaching young adults trade skills while also helping them give back to the community.

The Newport News YouthBuild program is for the city’s residents between the ages of 16 and 24 and provides job readiness, financial literacy classes, and career exploration opportunities to find employment in construction.

On Wednesday and Thursday, nine students helped build a Habitat for Humanity home in the southeast part of the city.

“It’s great to have young people who are willing to get up on the second floor and work and everything. It’s helpful for us but again we take everybody. Everybody is welcome here at habitat,” said Dava Warner, who is Habitat for Humanity’s volunteer engagement assistant.

Warner, who was once a volunteer herself, says the partnership between her organization, the city, and YouthBuild allows the students to get hands-on training in a safe environment.

The labor is something they’re grateful for because despite the pandemic, their work hasn’t stopped.

“We have still been plugging away building houses. Our schedules have been delayed because one of the problems we’ve run into with COVID is the price of lumber doubled and tripled in some cases,” she said also mentioning shipping delays and safety protocols. “Our schedule has been a little delayed but our construction crew has been plugging away with and without volunteers.”

Kenneth O’Neil, who’s been the construction coordinator for YouthBuild for over 20 years, says his students love being able to learn and help give back.

“I think it’s great and the guys think it’s great. Once they start hearing the stories, they’re more excited about doing the work,” he said.

O’Neil, who’s also worked in construction for over 30 years, says the program is also vital to making sure there are construction workers for the future.

“[It’s] passing the knowledge onto the next generation. Once my generation’s gone, we need someone to fill our shoes because you know we don’t have that many people getting into construction. We’re trying to move people into the construction field because it’s a never-ending job,” he said. “It will always be here. People always have to have a home. It will always be here. It’s a job guaranteed for life.”

And those who worked on Wednesday and Thursday are building a home for life for one special family.

Warner says the pandemic has shown how crucial home life is.

“This year, we’ve learned home is not a gift or a privilege. It’s a necessity. To be able to meet that need here on the Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg, we’re blessed to have that opportunity,” she said.

Warner hopes the home will be completed by spring, but COVID-19 could cause delays.

As for O’Neil and his students, he hopes that they’ll be encouraged to continue to pursue this career path.

“I’ve always took pride in what I do. I’m trying to instill in these guys that same pride so when they walk away from here and come by later, they’ll say look what I did because that’s what it’s all about-passing it forward,” he said.


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