Early in 2015, when Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan reached an agreement with Detroit Public Schools to take ownership of a number of their properties in exchange for forgiveness of unpaid utility bills, he faced a problem: how to secure those properties that were blighted and stop them falling further into disrepair.
The Detroit Building Authority (DBA) convened a meeting of potential partners including Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation (DESC), Jenkins Construction, and Pat Devlin from the Greater Detroit Building and Trades Construction Council.
Recruiting dozens of youth from around the city, DESC provided the labor needed to board-up many of the schools as part of our Year-Round Youth Program, in association with the Mayor’s Grow Detroit’s Young Talent initiative.
The DBA provided all the materials that would be required, and the youth were enthusiastic and motivated, but they did not have the proper training and needed to work under supervision.
“Some of the schools we needed to secure were in a very poor condition,” said DBA Director Dave Manardo. “We were delighted to have the youth work on the project, but is was critical to ensure that they were following safe work practices while they learned the skills they would need.”
Jim Jenkins, President of Jenkins Construction and Rodney Prater, the Director of Jenkins Construction’s Special Project Division, offered to oversee the board-up project and take responsibility for ensuring that the youth were properly trained and supervised.
“In all my years of experience of working with the community, this is one of the most rewarding projects I have been a part of” said Jenkins. “It is rare to have the opportunity to mentor a group of young people in a way that can genuinely impact the rest of their lives.”
On June 22, 2015, the youth team started prepping the boards that would be used to secure the schools, making them weather-resistant, and later that week the board-ups started with Holcomb Elementary.
The original target was to secure 4 schools, making sure that scrappers and other trespassers could not get access to the properties, eliminating the neighborhood blight, and preventing vandals from stripping them of lead pipe and copper wire. The work received a lot of media coverage throughout the summer and the work went on, and on, and on.
More members of the Prater family got involved – Terry, Courtney, Chris, and Rudy all joined their brother, as did Rodney’s God-brother Reginald Lane. Multiple skilled trade organizations got involved, including the Carpenters and Operating Engineers. And still the work went on, increasing in speed until eventually a total of two properties were being secured each week.
At the end of October, a recognition ceremony was held at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters to mark the end of the program, with some startling results.
Over 50 youth had been involved over the course of the board-up project. All had gained valuable experience, several had received offers of full-time union apprenticeships and DESC is working hard to place others. In all, a total of 25 former DPS schools had been secured.
“Being in and completing this program has been life changing” said Cameron Faucette, one of the youth offered a roofers apprenticeship. “Before this program I went through three majors and two career paths. The program has helped me to find my path and it has also set me on the fast track to be a success in my field and also a success in life.”
“This project is just one of many we have offered in our year-round programming” said DESC Senior Program Analyst Carla Phelps. “It’s a passion of mine to work with youth like Cameron, and a great feeling to know that what we do at DESC is helping to shape the lives and provide career paths for our youth.”
The Detroit Employment Solutions Year-Round Youth Program is open to Detroit youth aged 14-24.