Carpentry, Construction a Remedy for At-Risk Youth

Tom Stoelker reports on a program that's teaching inner-city youngsters valuable skills – by training them to build its own headquarters.
March 28, 2012, 7am PDT | Ryan Lue
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Philadelphia-based architecture firm Digsau has a project under construction on the coast of Wilmington, Delaware that may take longer than most. But the barn-like structure isn't going up slowly because of its green roof, or the reclaimed materials being used to build it, or even its geothermal heating system (one of the first in the city). Rather, the firm is taking its time with the project on account of its construction crew, a team of 25 inner-city youth led by an organization called the Challenge Program.

Originally, the Challenge Program trained at-risk youth in the art of boatmaking. "The project's executive director, Andrew McKnight, quickly realized that boat making was not a sustainable skill for inner-city youth," Stoelker explains, "and the organization refocused and started training 25 young people a year, from ages 18 to 21 years, in carpentry and construction building."

Both the program and its students have earned a vote of confidence from the City as well as construction unions. "It may take them a little longer because they're learning," said Jeff Starkey, director of the Department, "but the detail on what they do is actually fabulous."

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Published on Monday, March 26, 2012 in The Architect's Newspaper
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