Northside Youthbuild endangered by federal budget cuts


Although continuing federal budget woes mean that local construction-based leadership development program Youthbuild could permanently lose funding, Program Director William Thompkins remains undeterred.

The program is run through the Pittsburgh Project and targets youths ages 18 to 24 who are out of school, not working, have a “history” with the correctional system, or who have recently been in foster care.

Despite having an active director in William Thompkins, Youthbuild is currently non-operational because of a lack of funds.

The House of Representatives is currently working through a bill that would cut all $100 million in federal funding for Youthbuild programs all over the country, and the Northside chapter could be in serious danger.

The Northside Youthbuild’s three-year contract with the U.S. Department of Labor expired, Thompkins said, and they need to apply for continued funds.

“We’ve been seeking continuation funding since before we even knew what was going to happen with the budget cuts,” Thompkins said.

“We have not received a response from the application we sent to the department of labor, but quite honestly, I see the Youthbuild program up and operational in Pittsburgh and nationally.”

Youthbuild offers a wide array of services in addition to the main leadership development component, from helping students acquire their GEDs to getting their drivers licenses.

It has a 25-year track record of enrolling students and turning them into an integral part of the working class in the Northside, Thompkins said.

“The construction component is just a vehicle. It’s a way of showing the young people there are options out there,” he said. “We have something called career and life skills sessions, where outside providers sit down and have a dialogue with these young people about a litany of items.”

Fortunately, even in the absence of the Northside outfit, youth in Allegheny County have been able to work with another Youthbuild program.

Diona Jones, who is the program director at Garfield Jubilee, has been a part of the program’s expansion to help the youth who could be missing out on the program.

“Since the Youthbuild in the Northside is no longer running, we have opened our doors to every youth between the ages of 16-24 in Allegheny County,” Jones said. “Right now, we are serving 135 youth.”

In this case, a policy that the program holds state-wide helped facilitate the help from Garfield Jubilee. According to Jones, one of the requirements from the department of labor was to connect with the other local Youthbuild chapters.

Although things are stable now, Jones is well aware that the budget cuts could affect them adversely and just like the Northside Youthbuild, they will need to start exploring other funding options.

“With the budget cuts, I know that’s going to affect us, but we are applying for other grants to keep our Youthbuild program up and operating,” Jones said.

The importance of the program to those 135 youth and the others in the country has been recognized locally.

“With the criminal backgrounds of some of our youth between the ages of 16-24, this is an avenue for second opportunity,” Jones said. “A lot of juvenile justice systems, local public school systems, probation officers — they are aware of the significance importance of this program and they have supported us 100 percent.”

“A number of our young people did have children,” Thompkins added. “So the Youthbuild program was a way of assisting a student or young adult in taking care of their family.”

To Jones’ surprise, the young adults have been utilizing more than just the GED program the Youthbuild offers. When the program first opened, they expected the majority of students would want their GED.

“Surprisingly, they want every aspect of services we can provide them,” Jones said. “Once they complete their program, which is 9-12 months long, they come back for more. This is a safe haven for them; this is their home away from home.”

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