Columbia Students Lay Foundations for Homes, Futures

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COLUMBIA - Nineteen-year-old Nashae Pollard helped construct the ceiling of a single-family home at 102 E. Sexton Rd. in Columbia. Pollard is getting construction training through a Job Point program called Columbia Builds Youth (CBY).

"It makes me feel really good to finish a house and know that... I did that," Pollard said. She hopes to use her construction skills to work as an architect in the future.

Pollard is originally from the East St. Louis area and she attended military school in the past. After completing CBY, she hopes to eventually earn a college degree.

The program gives low-income students construction certification training under the guidelines of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. CBY also prepares them to obtain a G.E.D. Students can usually complete the program in less than nine months, alternating between time in the classroom and construction site during the week.

"The teachers are really aggressive in helping you learn and understand everything. I really... enjoy working with them," Chad Simmons, 21, said.

Although he feels he has matured through CBY, Simmons said he has not always been responsible. He has been in the program for more than three months after applying in the past. He was recently released from prison after violating probation.

"I just thought maybe the program would work out this time, and it did," Simmons said. "Instead of just standing around... and getting in trouble, I'm actually doing something."

CBY turns out about two single-family homes in Columbia each year. Saturday marks the ninth anniversary of the start of the program, and students have built 17 homes in that time. Students also get paid for their construction work.

"A lot of the families that are moving into the houses are friends or relatives of students in the program," construction supervisor Brian Shannon said. "We would love... for students in our program to graduate and purchase some of the homes that they built."

A Job Point affordable housing program helps first-time homeowners purchase the houses, and a Community Development Block Grant Program through the city of Columbia decreases down payments.

In addition to housing projects, CBY sponsors a "highway heavy construction" program to give students more job opportunities. "Now paying $18 to $32 an hour, you'll really begin to see a family transform," CBY Director Gary Taylor said.

Taylor said CBY's goal is to give students the training to get steady construction jobs. Program leaders also hope this sets a good example for future generations of students' families.