At transformative program, high school dropouts get this message: You matter

At transformative program, high school dropouts get this message: You matter
( Image: Hawaii News Now )

KALIHI (HawaiiNewsNow) - At first glance, it looks like a high school classroom: Students sit at desks taking notes and answering questions.

But the teacher isn't asking about history or social studies. He wants them to identify what taxes are withheld from pay checks.

The participants in this class are all high school dropouts going through a program with YouthBuild Honolulu.

"YouthBuild is really about being transformational," program supervisor Kirsten Thornton said.

Eighteen-year-old Tahir Nesmith-Miles, one of the program's participants, said he needed help after he dropped out of school.

"I was jobless. I didn't go to school. My mom was threatening to kick me out of the house," he said.

He enrolled in the free program that teaches at-risk youth ages 16 to 24 basic job skills and self-confidence.

"That's what we want to do for our youth here is to get them to recognize they are leaders in the community and they can make a change," Thornton said.

Participants are all low-income. They choose from courses in carpentry, office work, health care and food service.

The city's Community Services Department pays for YouthBuild Honolulu through a $1.1 million federal grant.

Director Pamela Witty-Oakland calls YouthBuild a support system.

"One of the things we're looking forward to is some business engagement with local businesses that will be able to work with us as partners and employ these folks in entry level opportunities within their companies," she said.

State Rep. Cedric Gates is the most well-known graduate of YouthBuild Honolulu.

"Cedric came to our program at 16. He is now at 23 the youngest state representative for Hawaii," Thornton said. 'He comes. He speaks to our students. He posts things on his Facebook page about YouthBuild and how it impacted his life."

The course takes six months. Students must hold down a job for at least three months to earn a competency-based diploma.

Tahir hopes to get his in September. He wants to be a flight attendant.

"It will open a lot of doors for me. It'll look good on the resume," he said.

YouthBuild is a nationwide program.

Since YouthBuild Honolulu started in 2000, it's given hundreds of high school dropouts a second chance.

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