I’m sure you’re heard the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Today, we’re asking our friends, colleagues, family members, acquaintances, and folks we’re now meeting for the first time, to help us in supporting some youth in our village, right here in Buffalo, NY.
Four weeks ago, ReUse Action, took on the responsibility of apprenticing nine young adults from the Outsource Training Center on the East Side of Buffalo. They all arrived for their first day of work at the Hotel Lafayette downtown, eager, ready for work, willing to make a change in their lives. When we stood before them 4 weeks ago, we challenged them to make the most of this opportunity, to challenge themselves and each other, to be a sponge and learn from this experience, to give 100% to the job, and to take pride in their work. These young people have seized this opportunity. Over the last few weeks they’ve been removing 800 pound porcelain tubs, tediously removing thousands of ceramic tiles from the walls of a century old hotel, lugging radiators and doors, and most importantly reflecting on their role as a citizen, as a coworker, and as a friend for those around them. We assured them that if they did their best, we too would work hard, to pursue every opportunity, to find job placements for them. So this is what prompts our post this morning.
I haven’t been immersed in the world of education and mentoring for quite a while, though ever since first arriving in Buffalo it has been a passion of mine to create training opportunities for young adults. Our experience to date at the Hotel Lafayette has been both a reminder to me of the critical need that exists in our community for young adult apprenticeships and training, and also the dramatic challenges in our community. I’ve had some jolting conversations with youth that even after years of working with “at-risk” youth, still are shocking to me, as a man that grew up in such a dramatically different situation. Just one story relates to a young man we know so well as Shab. I was giving him a ride to the bank and then to Time Warner to pay his cable bill. We were talking about the future, his hopes, his job interests, and he then shared an idea for a business venture. He went on to explain his business plan to design and brand t-shirts that exhibit loved ones that are spending time in prison. “It’d be a strong business,” he said, “Because everyone knows someone in prison and we want then to know that we still care about them.” Everyone knows someone in prison. EVERYONE KNOWS SOMEONE IN PRISON!? This is his reality and it shocks me everyday when I hear their stories.
Experiencing these young people reminds me of the Summer of 2006, when I took ten young adults from the City of Buffalo to the Allegheny National Forest for 6 weeks. It was a residential training and apprenticeship program that we initiated soon after I arrived in Buffalo. I remember the shrieks and the shrills when the youth first learned that they’d be sleeping on the ground, “What???? You want us to set up tents in those weeds???” Six weeks later, the night before we returned to Buffalo, Meech shared the story about those notorious weeds and all his initial fears of being in the woods, but he then said, “I don’t wanna leave the woods. I feel safe here.” For the first time in his life, he wasn’t hustling, running, looking over his shoulder, or worrying about the cop that might shake him down on the next street corner.
We have a responsibility to create positive opportunities for the young people in our lives. To teach them what we know, what we’ve learned. To share with them our stories and experiences about what it means to be a responsive citizen, co-worker, or family member. To teach them the diligence and hard work required to get a job, keep a job, and learn new skills. And finally to help clarify and model for them what it means to be a collaborator, a community member, a friend.
We have nine young adults that are eager for an opportunity, eager for a job, eager to direct their lives on a path that will lead to more stability and success. If you know of contractors, artisans, landscapers, businessmen or businesswomen, manufacturers, or anyone else that may be able to provide an entry level opportunity for an eager young adult, please share this blog or facebook page with them. We will be profiling two youth each day for the next week and working to match these youth with great employers. Our village has many challenges, it has real risks, it can be both chaotic and insane, but we can balance that with opportunity, with mentoring, with support, with love.