DAYTON - What began as a community service project nine years ago has since evolved into vocational training for at-risk boys in Rite of Passage Inc. to learn the construction trade.
As part of the partnership, boys sentenced to the boot camp-style juvenile detention program, work with Citizens for Affordable Homes, which builds homes for low-income families.
"They help create something tangible," said Pete Clover, one of the coaches who initiated the program in 1997, along with CAHI self-help housing director Tom Finch and others. "Where there was once a field of dirt, there's now a house. This is a big self-esteem and confidence builder; they see what they can accomplish if they just stick with it. It's pretty cool."
Many, he added, have gone on to lead their own crews within a couple years of completing their training. And with construction trades wide open, have plenty of opportunity to use what they learn.
"It's a great marriage, where these kids get hands-on training and when situations come up on the job site, they are discussed and used as a learning tool," ROP program director Bob Westphal said. "The boys know what's expected of them and ask the questions and get solid input and direction from Tim (Stenger)."
Stenger is construction manager for CAHI, and in addition to overseeing field work, conducts actual classroom time for his students, teaching them not only the physical part of what they do, but also the language of construction.
About 110 kids have gone through the program.
"The intent of the ROP construction class is to take these boys from start to finish in the construction of a home," Finch said.
The program also teaches the value of community service while giving them practical skills.
"They take a lot of pride in (their work)," Clover said. "When their parents come for an off-site visit, many of the boys will take them to see the houses and show them what they've been up to.
While several students in the current group prefer welding, they all see value in having other skills to fall back on.
"This has given me experience that I'll probably use," Robert, 17, of Indiana said.
For Brian, 18, of Las Vegas, being part of the program has made him see greater possibility for his future.
"I think I'd like to start my own business one day," he said. "We built a (handicap) ramp for a lady. It felt good, and that was a new feeling for me."
The road to self-discovery for Terrance, 17, of Salt Lake City, is sometimes taken one minute at a time.
"They say idle hands are the devil's playground, and it's true," he said. "I used to get in a lot of trouble."
Terrance said he may go into construction, but has also considered being a lawyer.
"When these kids are being acknowledged for something positive they've done, and not the negative, they start to get hungry for it," Clover said. "Typically, though not always, positive transformation occurs."
And it's not just the kids who are learning.
"I was on my own at 16 and was taken under the arms of (many) older men and learned a trade that's done me good," Stenger said. "I want to give back what was given to me and, if I had it to do over, I would go to school to be a vocational tech teacher.
"(The boys) have taught me how much I enjoy teaching, and seeing them in their achievements, graduating from the program is totally gratifying. I love working with the kids."
• Contact reporter Karel Ancona-Henry at email@example.com or 246-4000.