Young Detroit Builders: Transforming Lives and Communities

By: Scott Davis | August 18, 2014

In my opinion, the best stories to tell about Detroit are the stories that exemplify everything the city stands for. The events, projects, charities and more that show all of the great things going on around the city. For instance, this past week, Life Remodeled helped transform schools and neighborhoods in Detroit. That is just the start of things. The Motor City is full of organizations not only willing to lead the comeback of this great city, but organizations taking the necessary steps to do so. One of these places that caught my eye is Young Detroit Builders.

Young Detroit Builders is a nonprofit organization, affiliated with YouthBuild U.S.A.  YDB offers a 10-month training program for people ages 18 to 24. Carpentry is the program’s main focus, but it also trains students in residential construction, repair, house rehabilitation, masonry and more, and is certified by the National Center for Construction Education and Research.

However, there is a twist. The majority of its students are those who do not have a high school diploma. In addition to all of the training, YDB also offers support services, counseling, leadership development, job and life skills and a modest living allowance for its students. This program truly gives its students a second chance at life.

“We love the work we do here in the city of Detroit,” Angela Wilson, executive director of Young Detroit Builders, said. “It is a great way to improve multiple lives at once.”

How was this initiative started, you ask? In the early 1990s, there was a glaring problem with citizens of Detroit being underdeveloped, undereducated and in need of life skills. Somebody, or some entity, took notice of this and decided there needed to be a change. YDB was first piloted by two separate nonprofit organizations in 1993. The campaign was successful and once the project gained enough money through grants and donations, the full program was launched in 1996. In addition to the problem of education, we are all aware of the issue of abandoned homes and blight in Detroit.

“We think it is a perfect marriage of problems to solve together—the problem of Detroit housing and the problem of uneducated and under-skilled people. That is why we’re here,” Wilson said.

The students of YDB work on a lot of housing rehabilitation and repair projects around the city. One of its current projects is Write-a-House, where vacant houses are renovated by youth building programs, such as YDB, and then awarded to writers in order to bolster the literary community of Detroit (hey, I am a writer). YDB is also looking to start building wheelchair ramps around the city, assisting other nonprofits on housing rehabilitation projects and working with several other projects around Detroit.

YDB is also very community-based. It is committed to being involved with the neighborhoods of Detroit. Rebuilding and repairing homes for low-income families is just one way the organization gives back. YDB does all kinds of community service projects that help revitalize Detroit, including cleaning up the streets and volunteering. The variety of activities YDB is involved in helps its students find new interests.

“Our goal is never to force our students to do anything they don’t want to do, but rather to engage them with the community and teach them the importance of giving back,” Wilson said. “Each student has a different interest level, so we do a lot of community projects to help accommodate that.”

The staff members at YDB don’t simply cut their students loose and leave them to fend for themselves. They stick around well after to help out their former students for however long is needed. When participants complete the program, YDB helps students with job/apprenticeship placement, recommends students for scholarships, and helps students fill out college applications and financial aid forms.

“We’ll continue to work with the students as long as they need us,” Wilson said. “We support them as they prepare for college, jobs or apprenticeships. Our goal is to have them prepared when they leave here.”

YDB is always welcoming volunteers, mentors, tutors, construction supervisors and more. So go ahead, get involved or donate to help this great organization take care of the Detroit.

It is evident that this nonprofit cares about its community, its students, its staff and its city. This is a great organization dedicated to bettering Detroit. I applaud Young Detroit Builders and everything it stands for.