Getting legislation passed through the U.S. Congress to fund YouthBuild is a fight Kirsten Gillibrand thinks she can win.
New York’s Democratic junior senator was in Schenectady’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood Monday morning at a ribbon-cutting ceremony to help publicize a sustainable rehab project just completed on the house at 843 Emmett St. Also among those joining in the festivities were U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam; Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy; and YouthBuild founder Dorothy Stoneman of New York City.
“This is a model for how energy-efficient, green and sustainable homes can be built affordably,” said Gillibrand. “YouthBuild works, but year after year we have the same old fight in Washington. But we will prevail in this fight. I know we will win this battle.”
YouthBuild USA was formed in 1988 and oversees a variety of programs aimed at helping poor inner-city children, particularly high school dropouts. It partnered with the world’s largest building materials company, Saint-Goban, to create a program aimed at giving students the skills to take on major tasks such as completely rehabbing dilapidated houses and turning them into energy-efficient and affordable homes. In Schenectady, those two national groups have teamed up with the Northeast Parent and Child Society, which was also represented at Monday’s event.
YouthBuild always had the support of former Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, now U.S. Secretary of State. In a story Gillibrand related to the crowd Monday, she said how Iowa Democratic Sen.Tom Harkin said he was happy to see Gillibrand carrying the banner for YouthBuild.
“He told me that John Kerry used to be the YouthBuild champion when he was in Congress, and he had been wondering who was going to be its champion now,” said Gillibrand. “He said, ‘I’m so glad it’s you.’ So I’m happy to be the champion of YouthBuild. Its authorization program expired in 2012, and last year it was slated for elimination by the House. But I know with the great colleagues we have in the House like Congressman Tonko and our allies in the Senate we’re going to prevail. We will make sure that YouthBuild is part of the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act that’s being debated in Congress today, and I’m sure it will win.”
“We’re talking about empowering young people, and aren’t we at our best when we empower the people in our communities to do their very best, and we utilize the skills those people have?” said Tonko. “YouthBuild builds our communities, and we need to continue to build YouthBuild.”
Northeast Parent and Child Society President John Henley said his group’s partnership with Saint-Goban and YouthBuild, including the local Schenectady chapter and its director, Jennifer Lawrence, has been a remarkable success.
“We want to replicate this experience throughout Schenectady,” Henley said. “If you take a look at what this place used to look like, and look at what our young people, about 80 YouthBuild students from Schenectady, have done with it it’s amazing. And we hope to not only create great houses throughout the city but also great homes. We couldn’t be prouder of the YouthBuild here in Schenectady.”
Tom Kinisky, president of Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, said his company donated $140,000 to YouthBuild in Schenectady to help with the project.
“Anyplace where we have a large concentration of employees we try to get actively involved in the community,” said Kinisky, who is a Stillwater native and is now based out of Aurora, Ohio. “We have our employee volunteers who really get involved and teach these kids working on their high school diploma or an equivalence degree the building science and technology.”