Building the Future: An Interview with Colleen Kent of YouthBuild/ReSOURCE VT

Building the Future:  An Interview with Colleen Kent of YouthBuild/ReSOURCE VT

Interview by Emily Hoyler

Colleen Kent and YouthBuild students lend a hand during an especially snowy winter.

Colleen Kent is the Community Partnership Coordinator for YouthBuild, an education and job skills training program of Burlington, Vermont’s ReSOURCE, a non-profit community enterprise that seeks to change lives, to provide relief, to retrain, rebuild, repair, and restore. YouthBuild is part of ReSOURCE’s ReTRAIN program, serving a diverse range of individuals who need new skills and an opportunity to succeed.



Emily:  Colleen, tell me about YouthBuild and a little about what you do?

Colleen:  YouthBuild is a national organization that provides education and job skills training in construction for 16-24 year olds who have previously been unsuccessful in high school.  Our program in Burlington specializes in carpentry, weatherization, and woodworking, and the weatherization piece is unique to the Burlington, and Barre, Vermont programs, but there are YouthBuild groups in almost every major city in the nation.  While working with YouthBuild, students will earn GEDs or High School diplomas and receive job skills training.


How do you integrate sustainability and service-learning into the work that you’re doing?

ReSOURCE has a three part mission.  We meet community and individual needs through education and job skills training, environmental stewardship, and economic opportunities. YouthBuild supports all parts of this mission.  Students gain job skills as they work on the environmental and economic aspects in two ways.  ReSOURCE operates ReBUILD, deconstruction service, which breaks down homes and takes back all the materials which we then resell. YouthBuild students help out with the deconstruction.  But our students are more directly involved in our Waste-Not-Products, a product line at ReSOURCE that takes salvaged construction material and creates new products.  Students gain carpentry and woodworking skills as they use the reclaimed materials to create things like cutting boards, chicken coops, and rain barrels—basically any type of material that can be used and made into a new product can be part of the Waste-Not-Products line.  These products bring in revenue for the organization, and it’s great that the students can be part of the profit side of our non-profit organization. 


Describe your students and what this work means to them?

Our students have all dropped out of high school, but instead of calling them high school dropouts we say they’re in YouthBuild to transform that term.  All YouthBuild students are part-time AmeriCorps members. One of the hidden gems of this program is the service piece— every Friday our students go out in the community, communities that they may have gotten into trouble in in the past, and they’re getting out and doing direct service to these communities.  Previously these students haven’t been highly looked upon by their community, and now they’re out there shoveling driveways, working in community gardens, volunteering at local schools, and really changing the way the community perceives them.  At the same time, they’re working to earn high school diplomas, which is something that for a lot of them didn’t seem attainable in their previous academic settings.


Can you describe some of the service projects that your students have worked on?

Usually people (community partners) come to us with a project idea, and then the students orchestrate the work since they have the carpentry skills.  Last winter, a man who was organizing a teen center at the mall came to visit the students and talked to them about what he was trying to create.  He offered ideas about what the students could do, and the students were really excited about helping him out.  They built a stage for the space on a Friday work day.  The students are also involved in community gardens here in Burlington.  Right now we’re doing a project with Grow Team ONE, which is a volunteer-run organization in (Burlington’s) Old North End.  At their Riverside garden plot we’re helping to build a pavilion, shed, and rain catchment system.  We’re using materials that were reclaimed from the site. It’s a great project because we’re working with a designer who is teaching us things as we’re going, and the sustainable building practices are integrated right into the work.  The students understand the principle behind it, and that environmental stewardship is part of the mission of ReSOURCE. They work directly with all the recycled materials coming in to the yard and then see a really beautiful final product, and can think back and see the transformation of the materials. They’re doing work, but they’re making pretty cool connections about living sustainably as well.


You used to work at Shelburne Farms as an apprentice with our Education Programs.  How has your work with Shelburne Farms influenced your work with YouthBuild?

I think that my Shelburne Farms experience has led me to try to make my students more aware of food issues, environmental issues, and their connection to this place. One way that’s happened is that the Burlington School District Food Services, which is part of the Farm 2 School network, whose mission is to provide healthier local food products in school lunches, is providing our lunches.  I’m using this relationship to help the students become more aware of where their food is coming from, and the people who are providing it— lunch is not just something that shows up here. We go and help out with the Farm 2 School Network’s Junior Iron Chef Competition to give back to the people that are providing us with food.


How did you get into this kind of work?  Why do you do this work?

I have always been interested in working in an education setting.  When I started working for Shelburne Farms I really enjoyed the agricultural education, working with young kids, and being constantly outdoors.  But when I finished up my apprenticeship at the Farm, I was looking for an opportunity to work with less advantaged youth. I feel like my work with YouthBuild has expanded my view of education, and deepened my connection to how alternate education and public schooling works.  The idea of being able to go out and do community service every Friday, to get deeply involved in the Burlington community and make connections with new people, and to do good things all around Burlington is so exciting. This work is really rewarding!

 This article appeared in SSP's Spring 2011 Newsletter.

Download a PDF of the article here.

Download the entire Spring 2011 Newsletter here.









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