Azariah Billings has always had big dreams. She only needed help finding a straight pathway to reach her goals. That help came when Azariah entered the Urban League of Greater Atlanta’s YouthBuild program when it started in February 2015.
The Urban League partners with Atlanta Technical College to help young adults in YouthBuild finish their high school education, receive a certificate in construction, and secure a job or further their education. Azaria is the first participant to receive her GED through the program.
“With YouthBuild, I had caring adults around me to help me develop my action plan for life and stay focused on the big picture,” Azariah said. “I enjoy construction and learning new skills, and now I know I can succeed in continuing my education.”
The oldest of six children, 19-year-old Azariah said “procrastination” and “lack of motivation” had been her biggest obstacles to getting ahead. Her family had moved around a lot, and her grades had suffered by the time she decided to drop out of high school. But when her daughter Arisa was born a year ago, she found the perfect reason to stay focused.
“I needed to go back to school because I want Arisa to know the value and importance of education,” Azariah said. “I read to my baby all the time and tell her that she is smart.” When she learned about YouthBuild, Azariah was grateful and ready to apply herself.
YouthBuild is a 34-year-old national program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor to help young people between the ages of 16 and 24 get certified in the construction industry. This is the ULGA’s first time offering YouthBuild, with a goal of serving 64 young adults in Fulton County over the next three years and an opportunity to expand our offerings to “opportunity youth” who are out of school, unemployed and under employed.
The program’s first two years will focus on social services, training and education followed by helping the students gain employment in construction and/or further their education.
Charles Walker, YouthBuild program manager, already is building alliances that will result in apprenticeships and employment for the participants on major construction projects throughout the metropolitan area.
Initially, 32 students enrolled, and 20 percent of them are women, Walker said. At the entry level, they are learning dry wall and framing, roofing, and how to construct the wood frame for a house. As a community service project, they worked on a house with Habitat for Humanity.
The program encourages retention by offering benefits including transportation cards and other incentives. For example, students receive a cash award for reaching milestones including completion of each of the four parts of the GED program and graduation. Every Friday, professionals share information on life-skills such as how to maintain good credit, how to purchase a car, and how to be “job ready” in attitude and behavior.
Azariah said YouthBuild is giving her a chance to teach her daughter a lesson by example:
“In order to be successful you have to believe in yourself and never stop working to achieve your goals.”