HAMMOND — About 50 young adults gathered at the City Council Building on Dec. 21 for a day of community service and the opportunity to be chosen for the 2018 class of the Quad Area Youth Build program that helps participants finish their high school education and learn practical skills that can lead to enhanced employment opportunities.

The group, with the cooperation of Keep Hammond Beautiful, spread out in neighborhoods in the northeast corner of the city with pickup sticks and bags and returned several hours later having gathered up about 100 bags of litter.

Rosemary Mendel, case manager for Quad Youth Build and director of the day’s activity, said the day of service is a way of introducing potential participants to the value of making positive contributions to the community and indicating their interest in taking steps that can positively impact their young lives.

Quad Youth Build is one of several programs offered by the Quad Area Community Action Agency headquartered off U.S. 190 between Hammond and Albany. The agency, under the direction of Wallace Sibley, offers various programs that serve youth, military veterans and senior citizens in an effort to fight poverty.

Quad Youth Build, directed by Crystal Pena, seeks to help young adults who, for one reason or another, did not complete requirements for a high school diploma. The program, funded by the federal Department of Labor, aims to prepare young people for employment or advanced educational opportunities once the nine-month program is successfully completed.

Mendel said 244 such programs exist throughout the nation and the results of such endeavors are encouraging. “We exist to help those who did not graduate from high school but who still have ambition and who are willing to learn skills that can lead to a life of gainful employment. Our program gives these young people a second chance to become successful in life. Our goal is to see to it that those who successfully finish our program have the tools to work their way into middle-class society We want them to achieve financial success and financial independence,” she said.

Enrollees in Quad Youth Build are first taught “soft skills,” such as how to interact with others in a positive vein, how to deal with customers if working in a retail situation, how to work as a team, ethics, and how to build a sense of community and a willingness to make one’s community a better place, Mendel explained.

More specific skills, such as carpentry and other trades, along with academic classes, are taught as the program progresses. Participants in Quad Youth Build enter the program in late December and complete the process with graduation the following September. Students successfully completing the program’s requirements earn a high school equivalency degree and graduate with practical job skills.

“We encourage our students to try and continue their education once they are finished with Quad Youth Build. We work with the Northshore Technical Community College and Southeastern Louisiana University to assist those who finish our program and wish to continue their educational opportunities,” Mendel said.

Students enrolled in the program are also given the opportunity to sign up for participation in the AmeriCorps Vista program. If they complete 450 hours of community service, they can receive $1,175 for future educational development.

During their time in Quad Youth Build, students who do not have a driver’s license are given driver education training and can earn their driver’s license, Mendel said.

While enrolled in Quad Youth Build, participants are paid a stipend of $7 an hour for a 32-hour work/study week. Mendel said that among the requirements for those in the program is that they remain drug free. “We do random monthly drug screening, and if a client stays drug free, they get the full stipend. Our goal is to assure that all of our participants remain drug free throughout the time they are with us and throughout their lives,” she said.

Quad Youth Build students live at home during the program and, Mendel said, the stipend helps students cover transportation and other costs associated with completing the course.

Over the nine months of the program, the class is divided into two groups. One group is given two-weeks of classroom instruction while the other group participates in on-the-job training. The groups flip after two weeks. Quad Youth Build participants work with the Fuller Center — Ginger Ford Habitat for Humanity in home improvement and construction projects for needy families and learn building skills during this period of training.

Participants interested in a career in carpentry are encouraged to gain enough skill at the trade to earn membership in the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, a path toward employment in the field.

Quad Youth Build is funded for two years at a time by the Department of Labor for the training of 64 students, so 32 students are selected for each yearly class. At the conclusion of the litter pickup activity, Mendel told the participants that those selected for the program would be notified in the near future whether or not they have been chosen as part of the class for 2018. She encouraged those who did not make the class this time to try again next year.

“We want to help all of you in learning how to live successful lives by completing your education and learning skills that will help you find good paying jobs. Don’t give up trying to improve your lives and your communities. If you are serious about getting ahead in life, keep in touch with us,” she told the group.

Mendel said the program has proven to be a success, and many graduates of Quad Youth Build have gone on to college or to careers that are rewarding and fulfilling. “Giving these young people a second chance at success in life is so special. Watching them grow and learn to appreciate the opportunities that are available for them is exciting. We have helped hundreds in the past find a path to success, and with each new class, the challenge starts all over again,” Mendel said.

Dori St. Cyr, Hammond city employee and executive director and secretary of Keep Hammond Beautiful, said her organization welcomes Quad Youth Build’s annual participation in the effort to rid the city of litter. “These young people are eager to show what they can do, and they help us out with the litter pickup. At the same time they learn firsthand about the problems all communities face with controlling litter. It’s a positive exercise for the city and for Quad Youth Build, and each year we look forward to their day of service,” she said.

Mendel invites those who might be interested in becoming a participant in Quad Youth Build in the future to contact the group’s administrators for information and possible inclusion in the program in the future.