What would you do with close to a million dollars?

By Dixie Ann Black

Kirk Brown can answer that question in his sleep. In fact, he has a plan, support, and as of today, the money.

On Wednesday May 29th, a group of loyal supporters gathered at Handy Inc. to celebrate as Kirk Brown, CEO of Handy Inc. received a check for $920,000 from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Reentry Employment Opportunities program. U.S. Representative, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and the House of Representatives, presented the check.

This YouthBuild grant funding will help students further their education and expand training, employment and apprenticeship opportunities. Wasserman Shultz commended Handy in its role as a safety net program, and in its ability to earn such strong support from for-profit and other non-profit communities.

Locally much support comes also from Career Source Broward which has been funding Handy for over ten years. CEO Carol Hylton describes Handy this way, “It gives those with blemishes on their records, fostered teens, teen parents an opportunity to be elevated by exposing these youths to options other than college and to a variety of alternatives.”

Brown points out that all of their corporate partners like Hotwire, Moss Construction and DPR Construction are very intentional about the success of the youth. “They are not just hiring an employee, they’re seeking to add value to a life,” he says. The Moss Foundation provided the first financial investment of matching funds to help Handy qualify for the grant. The Community Foundation which supports career exposure and placement of children of trauma into industries is also a key supporter.

Forty young people will be selected per year to participate in this program for the three-year span. They will be trained and certified in their areas of skill to enter the workforce and they will be supported every step of the way. This money will pay for certifications for the youth who do not qualify for certification programs. It will help to subsidize some of the income they can earn, as well as pay for the case management components of the program. These components include issues such as homelessness, sickness and other obstacles to them staying on track and completing their certifications.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been a longtime supporter of Handy, having worked with their youth on issues like advocacy awareness by assisting them in visiting the nation’s capital for tours. Brown describes her role of advocacy as continuing to represent the youth in the local community as well as in Congress.

“ ‘I want to know that my efforts have value.’ This is why Handy has existed since 1985, for young people who have been told that they have no value. This is the WHY of the grant. Handy works directly with roughly 520 young people every year in youth and work force development, mental health services, affordable housing and educational transitions. The Handy team of forty-eight includes individuals with lived experiences as well as ones with social work majors and degrees who guide the youth in planning a future which includes achieving educational goals as well as taking steps into career paths that will allow for self-sustainability. Youth are referred to Handy from 87 different referral services, community fairs and most significantly from the young people and families themselves,” Brown explains.

The local corporations have been willing to have ‘Hope and Desire’ enter their industries in the form of these young people,” Brown added.

Much of the magic of Handy takes place away from the Handy Headquarters but the location plays a major role. It houses the Best Buy Teen Tech Center, a partnership between Handy and Best Buy in which significant levels of technology are brought in for the youth to receive a deeper view of tech’s role in industries. This exposes the youth to technology ranging from a 3-D printer, flight simulator and music studio to virtual reality, all for free. Staff also work with foster care, homeless and individuals in different phases of need, to stabilize their home situations and help them to excel in education and the workforce.  Outside of the Handy building, youth are placed in jobs from a pool of fifty-six employers. They also “partner with 38 post-secondary institutions to make sure education and career pathways are created, traveled and achieved by our young people,” Brown adds.

Star employee Dimitri, a graduate in social work, found purpose and direction employed as a life coach with Handy for over a year, “I totally loved it,” he explains. He describes himself as the front line, the one the kids see first and the one who advocates for them achieving crucial life skills such as learning to drive, the basics of cooking and much more. He showcases a mental health challenged young man who was not expected to graduate high school but with their (Handy’s) help he was able to receive advocacy and academic support. This young man is now on the dean’s list in college. With Handy’s help Dimitri is now moving on to a career in law enforcement.

After the excitement of receiving the lump sum subsides the real work starts. Handy will meet with their partners and decide on hiring options, levels of commitment, and the easiest path to success for Handy’s youth. Corporate partnerships to the program include eight companies and Hotwire already signed on.

In accepting the grant Brown highlighted the logic and power of Handy’s plan, “The process of getting the grant was based on Handy’s long held realization that the young people’s efforts should equal value. They may not respond to conventional education strategies in the community, and some may be really attracted to trades. So Handy wanted to build a pathway of intersection between trades (especially construction and manufacturing) which is already some of the largest established employers of youth in the community.”

This intersection of opportunity led to Handy writing this, its first federal grant. YouthBuild and Handy share common interests such as working with youth with education and community challenges. FIU Moss School of Construction adds the opportunity for youth to become credentialled in this area. Together they cover schooling, credentials and case management. Brown points out that case management is key because it means someone is there. “Most people don’t finish this journey because life happens, so Handy’s case management services is what happens when life happens.”

The result is funding which facilitates having the professional work alongside the corporate partner for employment, the instructional partner for education and the young person, the recipient. This means hiring four new staff to assist an additional fifty youth per year. Eligible youth include those already involved with Handy and those involved in the system of care in Broward County including GED programs.

What does success look like for this grant? Brown points to a young man who spoke, having chosen construction, through Handy moved on to engineering and is now a senior project manager at Moss Construction. This amounts to sparking an interest, giving the youth the first step on the ladder into the industry then backing this up with educational attainment until they can climb the ladder and the career pathways. Handy commends its industry partnerships, Moss, Hotwire and others for stepping up to the plate to provide these types of opportunities and access for young people.

In closing, Kevin Love, a Handi alumni, offered a strong verbal and visual message of the impact the YouthBuild Grant will have on the community. The grant offers an opportunity to create a better life for the youth, gain education and enhance communities with sustainability. He is living proof. Kevin is now a project manager for Moss and Associates. Check out Handy at https://www.Handyinc.org.

About Carma Henry 25108 Articles
Carma Lynn Henry Westside Gazette Newspaper 545 N.W. 7th Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311 Office: (954) 525-1489 Fax: (954) 525-1861

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