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Benton Harbor YouthBuild cuts ribbon on new home

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- The non-profit YouthBuild cut the ribbon on a new high quality low income home in Benton Harbor Friday.

The program's goal is two-fold: teach a trade like construction to young adults who weren't on the best path and develop high quality affordable housing in communities that need it.

24-year-old Alexus Wilson was proud to show off a home she helped build from the ground up at Friday's unveiling.

“If you could see it when I first started back in 2015 when we just demolished everything, tore down all the walls and boarded up windows, and to see it now, it’s like wow, it’s definitely a great accomplishment," said Wilson.

The group cut the ribbon on not only the new house on Pearl Street but also on the participants' futures.

“I had graduated back in 2012, but I hadn’t really put any effort into going back to school, but once I got into YouthBuild, I’m like okay now I need to get focused," said Alexus.

Benton Harbor has played host to YouthBuild for about ten years, building five to six houses as of Friday.

To join, there are a few requirements:

  • Open to ages 16-24
  • Low income
  • Dropped out of high school (can be in an alternative school)
  • Have been in and out of the justice system

“Our goal is really to get them out of the house, on their feet, and into sustainable employment," said Program Manager, Caleb Weeks.

It worked for Ontaygo Johnson, who was one of the first to join 10 years ago.

“[I was] in and out of the system. I’m actually a recipient of the GED, so I’m a high school dropout, so those kinds of things, in and out of jail, court, so I was able to turn all that around...What the YouthBuild program did is it kind of unlocked that true potential for me, and that’s why you’ve got this here today," said Johnson, who now serves as YouthBuild's Case Manager and Retention Specialist.

“It kept me out of trouble. Things I didn’t know how to do, I know how to do now--**covered**it helped me gain new friends. It just taught me to respect people," said Jasmine Bibbs, a 20-year-old YouthBuild participant.

Weeks says the program opened his eyes to what was going on in Benton Harbor.

"It really widened my perspective on my own community on the struggles that these people were finding not just to live, not just to find, but to excel," he said.

“When I came back to Benton harbor, I’m like, 'I don’t know why I’m here. I don’t like Benton harbor. Why am I here?' This is why I’m here. To help my community. I’ve figured it out now. YouthBuild helped me do that," said Alexus.

Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad says it's encouraging to see housing projects like this one continue to flourish in the city.

“The youth is the future, so to get them engaged, to get them involved in revitalizing the community, I think is the greatest work...It pulls people together in a great effort to improve the neighborhood block by block, but to improve people at the same time," said the mayor.

YouthBuild will be selling the house to a family very soon.


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