"High risk" youth in west-side Salt Lake City are making a go of life in the Westside Youth Project, a 6-year-old program enabling troubled teens to help revitalize neighborhoods while learning skills and self respect.
The program began in 1982 and brings kids from the streets to outfit them with hammers and nails and put them to work on community projects in the west-side area, said Maria Garciaz, of the Neighborhood Housing Services, the private, non-profit organization that sponsors the project.Not only does the program contribute to the west-side community's image, it also "constructively builds young people's lives," she said.
"The goal of the Westside Youth Project is to address some of the problems neighborhood youth are experiencing by providing a realistic work experience," she said.
Currently, 10 kids are involved in the project. The boys are remodeling a home at 866 S. 14th West. All must be in school to be eligible to participate, Garciaz said.
The remodeling project was made possible through Neighborhood Housing Services, which, via a low-interest loan, was able to help a low-income family move from a deteriorating home into the home now being renovated.
Many of the kids working on the home are "high risk" juveniles, sometimes referred to the program by juvenile court judges. The program allows the kids, if necessary, to make restitution with wages they earn.
But perhaps more important, the young men learn marketable construction skills, which in turn promotes "a feeling of self-worth," Garciaz said.
Since the program began in 1980, it has employed more than 100 youth. Projects have included neighborhood cleanup days, masonry jobs, graffiti cleanup efforts, painting for the elderly and handicapped, and many building projects, she said.