Message in a bottle
An innovative educational program gives at-risk teens a second chance in Newark
Think your empty shampoo bottles serve no useful purpose? Think again. To lessen the ugly load of "beauty waste" in landfills, the beauty company Garnier has partnered with the innovative recycler Terracycle to give spent beauty products a useful second life-by transforming them into recycling bins. We chatted with Darrell Price, program director at YouthBuild Newark, an educational program for at-risk teens that is teaching youth groups to install those bins at Trust for Public Land parks in New Jersey.
Tell us about the YouthBuild Newark program.
The YouthBuild Newark program helps at-risk youth secure a high school diploma or GED through a combination of academic skill building, vocational instruction, and a healthy dose of leadership development.
What draws students to this program?
All of our students have dropped out of school, and they face high rates of drug use and gang activity. Folks in cities like Newark can get tunnel vision because all they ever hear about or see on the news is how horrible it is here. It can be so bad that you think you live in the worst place in the world and your problems are worse than everyone else's. This tends to create young people who can't see beyond themselves and their particular situation.
YouthBuild Newark guides students to make impactful positive change in the community. Though our students do sometimes participate in traditional service roles like volunteering at a food bank, we focus on providing them with opportunities to make a tangible, lasting difference—improvements that they can look back on and say, "I did that. I made that change."
What do you love the most about your job?
Most of our students are suffering from some sort of social trauma-they're desensitized to the drugs and the gangs. I love having the chance to fight against these social ills. I firmly believe that given proper circumstances and skill sets, young people can move themselves out of negative situations.
What happens to your students after they graduate from YouthBuild?
When offering GED instruction, we always focus on what comes next. Most students choose some type of post-secondary education. We partner with schools and try to get our kids to experience college environments so they can see firsthand what it's like. They may observe a class, which may turn into participating in a class, etc. We have a student from some years ago that is going to NYU. We also have a young man getting ready to graduate from Bloomfield University as a social worker. We continue relationships with the kids and we always say, "once you're in Youth Build, you're always in Youth Build."
What projects are you most proud of?
Last year we worked on a learning trail for little kids in Nat Turner park [the largest city-owned park in Newark, restored by The Trust for Public Land in 2009]. Nat Turner Park is across the street from the high school and so our students know many students there. They found great pride in that project because they are now seeing it utilized by their friends and by their community.
The kids who are now installing the recycling bins are gaining real and tangible work experience—learning to level and to pour concrete, learning best practices. In our construction classes we talk a lot about paying attention to detail. We take it seriously because we want the kids to take it seriously—and to be proud of their work. In this way, the YouthBuild model gives our students the support and tools they need to lead productive lives.