Volunteer Spotlight: Portland YouthBuilders

On Thursday, October 1st a group of eager Portland YouthBuilders (PYB) students arrived on Habitat for Humanity’s Glisan Gardens build site for the first time. They crowded around their construction trainer, Juli Michael, to learn more about the project and then nervously ventured into the building they would be helping to construct in the months to come.
After that brief introduction they gathered for lunch and listened intently to a presentation on the state of affordable housing in Portland and an overview of Habitat for Humanity’s work. They asked thoughtful questions and really sunk their teeth into this new learning experience.
Portland YouthBuilders’ mission is to support young people who are committed to changing their lives to become self-sufficient, contributing members of the workforce and their community. Many of their students have struggled in traditional education settings and with PYB they focus on learning habits for success like resilience and self-management.
“We help young adults who have had trouble achieving success in school,” said Sean Parks, a PYB Construction Trainer. “Many of the students we work with have not finished high school and as a part of our program we help students achieve a GED or High School Diploma. What we do on the construction site is try to instill our students with a sense of work ethic. We teach them and give them training in job trades with the goal of placing them in the workforce when they are done here, ideally with apprenticeship programs.”
Sean, who has worked with PYB for the last year and a half, said his favorite part of working with these students is seeing them succeed and seeing small successes snowball into a sense of greater confidence.
“So often it’s just meeting students where they are and then taking baby steps,” said Sean. “Seeing how the confidence grows in our students from the moment they come to us to the moment they leave and they’re able to go to an interview and have a good conversation and make eye contact and get a job—and keep that job! For me that’s what it’s all about.”
As a part of their construction program, many students spend time on Habitat build sites here in Portland –per their agreement with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries to dedicate time and energy toward building affordable homes. As many of these students have struggled to find safe, affordable housing in Portland it is a cause that really does hit close to home.
“I think it’s beneficial for our students to work on low income housing because we can also talk about issues like equity and inclusion and gentrification,” said Sean. “They’ve seen how it affects them; a lot of our students started out living in the inner city of Portland and have been pushed out into the margins. So I think that the act of building affordable housing is a really empowering experience for our students.”
In their work on Habitat builds, not only do PYB students get the chance to learn their trade but they also help their community. Since PYB is self-sufficient, and provides their own construction trainers and supervisors, it increases Habitat’s capacity to serve more families and work with more volunteers. This partnership has had a strong impact on the local community for over 15 years.
“Habitat has a lot of work to do managing all of their volunteers,” said Sean. “We can come in with a crew of young adults and manage ourselves and do professional level work and it’s that mutually beneficial relationship that has made our partnership with Habitat for Humanity so successful over the years.”
We here at Habitat believe strongly in the work that Portland YouthBuilders is doing, for their students and for our greater community, and we are happy to be a part of it. Thank you PYB for all that you do!

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