Columbia program helps youth

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COLUMBIA – A program is teaching teens the skills to build homes for low-income families in Columbia.

Job Point’s Youth Build program provides men and women between the ages of 17-24 with experience and education while working on a construction site.

These students are also members of a low-income family as well. Of the 10 members of the program, many have been subjected to difficulties throughout their life.

In the past the Youth Build has consisted of students who have dealt with an array of troublesome problems like incarcerated parents, homelessness, crime convictions and dropping out of high school.

Now, students have spent several months at 105 Lynn St. building the home from ground-up. Current student Noah Johnson said he’s excited to see the finished product.

“I know when I drive by and see that I did this, it’s going to be like I can do anything,” Johnson said. “I just built a whole house for people who need a helping hand. I can’t even explain it, it’s going to be great.”

Under his wide-brimmed hat that shades his sunburnt face, is the man who has played an important role in teaching his students their true potential.

“We got a good instructor Mr. C,” Johnson said. “He’s always around to help us when we need it.”

John Cokendolpher has dedicated a great portion of his time instructing his students to not only learn how to build a home, but to rebuild their lives.

Cokendolpher said he has worked with youth people at risk in the past, and has been in the construction field for many years. He jumped at the opportunity to tie both together as an instructor at Job Point.

“Here’s an opportunity to work with them, to help them try to get their life on track as well as give them an opportunity to get into construction,” Cokendolpher said.

Cokendolpher has taught his students how to build nearly everything in the home. They have constructed the kitchen, bathrooms, laid concrete, framing, flooring, and will eventually work on landscaping, all while working together as a team.

“I like learning new stuff, that's what keeps my hunger going” Johnson said. “I come out here and I didn’t do any of this before, but when I move on I’m going to have all this experience in my head.”

The students receive hands on experience on the site, but they split time learning the basics in the classroom at Job Point's facility as well. The program also allows students to work towards earning their High School Equivilancy Test diploma (HiSET), formerly called the GED.

“The idea is to get them out of poverty, or to keep them out of poverty and give them something to work with,” Cokendolpher said.

Everyday presents something new for Cokendolpher, but he said the opportunity to incorporate life lesson each day that keeps him going.

“I want to help them focus and think about what a career is, what a family is, what it means to be a part of the community,” Cokendolpher said. “If we can clarify that I think we’ve come a long way."

For Cokendolpher, it’s seeing first hand his students develop as not only workers, but people, that makes his job rewarding.

“Seeing changes in them from when a person comes into the program until they leave the program, and you begin to see attitudes and work ethic change, that’s worth it,” Cokendolpher said.

His goal for his students is that they apply what they have learned at Job Point later in their life, regardless of whether or not they pursue a career in construction.

“My hope is that all the students have a greater appreciation for work and what it takes to do well as an employee, and contribute to society, and just be a good person,” Cokendolpher said. “I want that to happen.” 

The home is expected to be completed within the next few months, and it will then be sold to a low-income family.

Moving forward, the Youth Build crew will break ground on the next site for a home right around the corner on Oak St.

"After this, I want to move forward and go to the next one, the next job site and get ready to build us a new one," Johnson said.

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