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Workforce development program for Buffalo youth receives $1.5 million grant

Kyle S. Mackie/WBFO News

Buffalo congressman Brian Higgins announced a $1.5 million federal grant for the Service Collaborative of Western New York Monday. The grant will support the collaborative’s YouthBuild: Leaders Under Construction program.

Western New York YouthBuild provides job training in construction, hospitality and advanced manufacturing, as well as high school equivalency coursework for youth aged 16 to 24.

“The Service Collaborative team continues to stand out as a national model utilizing community collaboration to produce real outcomes that change people’s lives forever,” Higgins (D-Buffalo) said at a press conference.

Higgins added that the collaborative is one of 67 YouthBuild programs across the country to receive the Department of Labor grant.

Kate Sarata, Service Collaborative executive director, said the funding will allow YouthBuild Buffalo to serve 86 young people—an increase from 64 in its last round of funding—over the next three years.

“All participants will have access to industry, recognized credentials, classroom support to explore their high school equivalency and service learning opportunities,” she said.

YouthBuild participants spend about half of their time in the classroom and half doing hands-on training through partnerships with local businesses and nonprofits. For example, students in the construction track work with Habitat for Humanity Buffalo to gain experience toward earning their Home Builders Institute Pre-Apprenticeship certificate and a partnership with Community Services for Every1 allows students studying hospitality to train for certificates required in that industry.

With the support of this grant, YouthBuild is also expanding into advanced manufacturing, which Sarata said is an in-demand industry in Western New York. Four local businesses are currently signed up to help students work toward a manufacturing skills certificate.

YouthBuild participants can also take college preparation classes at SUNY Erie or SUNY Buffalo State. In total, the program averages from nine to 12 months, with an additional year of follow-up provided by the Service Collaborative.

“That’s always our end goal, [job] placement and success of these individuals after they complete the program,” Sarata said.

Lakeema Ithna-Asheri, a past YouthBuild participant, told WBFO of her struggle to get an education as a teenager while helping her mother pay the bills, and of the difference the program has made for her.

“I had to grow up really fast, so school was just like either sink or swim for me and I put education last,” Ithna-Asheri said. “So when I realized, I have a three-year-old now, that I have to lead by example. I had to get back into school and push myself.”

Ithna-Asheri now works for the Service Collaborative through AmeriCorps.

For more information about the YouthBuild program, visit

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