YouthBuild Celebrates 10 Years of Empowering Young People in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  Over the last 10 years, there has been one place that has taken in any youth who needed help.

“We have one that's been murdered. I mean, it’s just sad, but for most of them this is their last resort. So if this doesn’t work out for them, some of them will be going to jail,” said Lenny Bell of YouthBuild. 

Getting them inside the doors is an obstacle in itself. Most of the students are poor, mainly minorities with criminal records, and in most cases, very under-educated. 

“When they come to us, most of them are pretty low. I would say below high school, probably 7th or 8th grade reading and math,” said Bell.

To Lenny, none of what the kids did before YouthBuild matters, it's just about working now. The staff at the Evelyn K. Davis Center has helped almost 200 kids get back on track. They start in the classroom, where each kid earns a GED. Then they counter that with job training, and many will go into high-paying jobs with construction unions. For many of these kids, this will be the first time an adult has given them the care and support they’ve needed.

“So I think that is where it starts. They begin to see that, yeah, there's people that care about me,” said Cliff Kessler of YouthBuild. 

One of those kids that has flourished with support is Aalonzo Hayes. He struggled with attendance at Hoover High School and eventually ended up at Scavo, where he deopped out in 2015. He felt like he was doing it alone--that is, until he found YouthBuild. 

“No, not really, except for my family. If I wasn’t at home, I didn’t feel like there was really a support system. When I got to school, there was nobody there to tell me to keep pushing and make sure I do what I'm doing, like there is here,” said Hayes.

He’s almost done with the program, and a $20 an hour construction job is waiting for him when he’s finished. He can’t believe how far he’s come in just six months. 

“I learned how to use a tape measure. I wasn’t really good at it at first, I messed up with that." 

Now, he’s taking those skills and giving back, and has helped remodel a Habitat for Humanity house. 

“It’s good, I feel great. Like, I can come by and say, 'I built this. I worked on that,'” said Hayes. 

The program is now looking for more people like Aalonzo, and Lenny says he is willing to talk to any kid who is struggling. 

“It’s important that if they know young people, that are in our age group between 18-24, that need something, that's basically on their last leg, send them to us,” said Bell.