Senator Merkley met last week with Heart of Oregon YouthBuild, witnessing first-hand the program’s work providing youth with opportunities to benefit their community while raising their own bar of expectations at the same time.

During the visit, Heart of Oregon staff and corpsmembers shared the educational, personal, and professional development components that YouthBuild offers. They discussed the integral role the program plays in preparing youth who face multiple barriers and risk factors to become more engaged, successful citizens in their communities. In April 2015 Senator Merkley invited HOC youth to ask initial questions at town halls in all three Central Oregon counties, and presented the organization with a flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol.

“When I was growing up, my dad always encouraged me to build things and work with my hands, because he knew those lessons would stay with me through my life,” Senator Merkley said. “My dad was absolutely right, and now YouthBuild is giving kids in Central Oregon an opportunity to develop practical job skills and keep them on track to get an education. There are lots of pathways to success, and I know from the young people I’ve heard from today that YouthBuild provides one extremely valuable option. I thank YouthBuild for their efforts to support students, and I’ll continue to do everything I can to make sure the federal government is a strong partner.”

During his visit to the YouthBuild headquarters in Sisters, Senator Merkley received a youth-led tour and conducted a Q&A session with the youth. Youth in the program work toward GED/high school diplomas two days per week and serve on-site to build affordable homes two days per week, gaining work skills and construction industry certifications along the way. Youth have constructed or rehabbed 25 low-income homes in seven Central Oregon towns since 2009. In addition to the blended program that enables students to focus on educational and career goals simultaneously, youth leadership and community involvement is a hallmark of YouthBuild, exemplified in the youth-elected Youth Partnership Council. Volunteer mentors also play a critical support role for youth success.

“Leadership and service is built into the YouthBuild model, so it is extremely impactful for our young people to meet Senator Merkley, who encourages them to advocate and create change in their communities,” said YouthBuild Program Director Kara Johnson. “Senator Merkley has been an advocate for Heart of Oregon YouthBuild for 10 years now. His continual support of YouthBuild on the local and national levels impacts thousands of youth throughout the United States each year.”

The Heart of Oregon YouthBuild program is supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, a national service AmeriCorps grant, as well as from the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission and local foundations, community organizations, and Sisters School District.