YouthBuild Vancouver: Constructing lives and our future workforce

Chelsea Chunn

The more than 40,000 young people between the ages of 16-24 in our region have significant impact on our lives, workforce and community. These youth are society’s future. It is in these young people that we have an incredible opportunity to build our future co-workers, teachers, bosses, employees and political leaders and, most importantly, an opportunity to make a difference.

With a 47 percent youth unemployment rate in Vancouver, compared to 18 percent nationally, it is critical that we begin to think differently about the way we train and prepare our future workforce. With more than 23 percent of students annually not completing high school, YouthBuild Vancouver can assist with capturing and reengaging these young adults.

Through an unprecedented partnership of six nonprofit agencies – the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council (SWWDC), Partners in Careers, Innovative Services NW, Evergreen Habitat for Humanity, Vancouver Housing Authority and WorkSource Vancouver – we will work to improve the situation for our local youth.

YouthBuild U.S.A. was founded in 1978 by Dorothy Stoneman, a Harlem teacher with a desire to do something after she witnessed time and time again how poverty, gang violence and crime consumed the lives of her young students. YouthBuild now operates 273 programs in 46 states.

The new YouthBuild Vancouver program will offer 60 high school dropouts, ages 17 to 24, a chance to earn their GEDs while learning job skills through hands-on activities both in and outside of the construction trades. Through the program, participants will build two energy-efficient houses for low-income families in our community. The program will bridge academic understanding with practical application and problem solving and participants will earn industry-recognized certificates in the construction trades.

In building homes, young people also rebuild their lives. Parenting teens, court-involved youth, foster youth, homeless youth and others will work together to understand their role in our community and, more importantly, in their own lives. They will gain competency, confidence and self-worth. This is more than just a training program for students; it changes young people’s lives, decreases destructive behavior and builds a culture of family and positivity that can transform our community.

I ask those of you that have a desire to work with young adults to get involved in YouthBuild or some other youth program and start making a difference. If you know an individual that would be a good fit for the program, share this information with them. The future of our youth workforce is all of our responsibilities and we need your help.

To learn more about the YouthBuild program, contact Project Director, Dave Cole, at 360.696.8417 or

Chelsea Chunn is the Youth Initiatives Manager at the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council. She can be reached at or 360.567.1066.