Early last spring, a group of eager young men and women were poised to begin Marion County’s latest Phoenix Rising YouthBuild. That’s when everything shut down due to COVID-19.
Instead of wielding hammers, they had to exercise patience.
That patience paid off recently when the Phoenix Rising Class of 2020 donned caps, gowns and face masks to graduate from the 11th YouthBuild program here. Walking across the stage at the College of Central Florida’s Klein Conference Center — accepting certificates and diplomas with fist-bumps instead of handshakes — were Justin Ammon, Christopher Burchill, Dalon Charles, Traliyah Fluker, Noeliz Santiago Morales, David Rohena, Neftali Torres and Darrell Wilkerson Jr.
The ceremony took place Nov. 24 in front of a slimmed down audience of immediate family members seated at assigned, socially distanced tables. It capped off the 24-week community-based, alternative-education program that helps revitalize economically challenged neighborhoods while making a positive difference in the lives of 16-to-24-year-olds willing to work and give back to the community.
Through Phoenix Rising, students receive classroom and hands-on instruction that can lead to employment and/or enrollment in a post-secondary education or training program. They also can earn their high school diploma as well as industry certifications, and receive a weekly stipend.
A key feature of the Phoenix Rising program, which got its start in Ocala in 2011, involves construction of homes in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Marion County.
To date, 222 students have taken part in Phoenix Rising programs in Marion County, resulting in completion of upwards of 1,000 industry certificates and 34 homes (the most recent is a three-bedroom, two-bath, 1,100-square-foot dwelling in Silver Springs Shores).
Paul Scrambling, a Habitat construction supervisor who has worked on all the YouthBuild projects in Marion County, told the graduates that the program is a “stepping-stone for you to go onto something better … the sky’s the limit.”
Scrambling noted that one such graduate was Jackelyn Torres, who took part in the second Phoenix Rising YouthBuild in 2012.
Torres said of her experience, “I couldn’t have done without it.”
Torres now works as a Phoenix Rising success mentor for CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion and its youth services provider, Eckerd Connects Workforce Development.
“Being able to come back and guide youth along their success meant everything to me,” she said. “I was very proud watching them walk across the stage and in being able to send them off to continue their success in life. I know they will go far.”
In addition to CareerSource CLM, Eckerd Connects and Habitat, Phoenix Rising YouthBuild partners include the City of Ocala, College of Central Florida, Marion County Board of County Commissioners, Marion County Sheriff’s Office and Silver River Mentoring & Instruction.
The Phoenix Rising YouthBuild project is supported by the Employment and Training Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor as part of an award totaling $740,737 with no part financed by nonfederal sources.
The program, which has expanded into Citrus County, has become a national model of what communities can build when working together. It has earned recognition from the Florida League of Cities, National League of Cities and Harvard’s School of Business, and has received Habitat for Humanity International’s highest honor, the Clarence E. Jordan Award for creativity and innovation in building homes and communities.
To learn more, visit careersourceclm.com.