CANTON, Ohio — Project REBUILD has been making the Canton area A Better Land for 20 years while it mentors students between the ages of 16 - 24, teaching them work and communication skills while they build affordable housing.
The new paint Taeya Jackson is putting on a lunch table at Project REBUILD's facility isn't the only new look she's creating.
If she wasn't part of the nine-month program, "honestly, I probably wouldn't be doing anything," said Jackson.
Both she, Corian Bonner, and their peers are learning construction, work, and communication skills while also getting help in the classroom. It sets them up for college or to enter the workforce.
"I want to do work for something bigger," said Bonner.
"I want to go to college, I want to own my own business," said Jackson. "I want to do construction, interior designing."
Executive Director Joanna James runs the 20-year-old program and says they focus on teaching young adults the skills that make them responsible adults and good employees.
"Sometimes, that looks like basic life skills," said James. "That may look like financial literacy and other times we might get into some case management kinds of things to help our young people create strategies to overcome some barriers that they may have had."
Helping that process are mentors like Matt Fantone.
"No matter how they got here, [ages] 16 to 24, that's such a confusing time in life and I can remember thinking at that point in my life that things were challenging," said Fantone.
That's why Fantone meets with students about once a week, helping them think about what might not always be obvious to young people.
"All those things that you do, the things that you decide, the things that you think about, that all adds up into who you are," said Fantone.
Fantone says he feels lucky to have had a lot of direction when he was between 16 and 24, but he knows that's not the case for everyone.
"You get to a certain age and everyone just kind of tells you to figure it out and that's not the easiest thing in the world to do," said Fantone.
While the students are getting their own lives in order their work is also helping others through the group's YouthBuild program.
"One of the byproducts of our construction training program is we're also creating low to moderate income housing in our community," said James.
In the program's 20 years in Canton, students have created more than 100 housing units for families in need nearby. When the students graduate, they leave with an industry-recognized credential in carpentry that open doors to a career.
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This story is part of A Better Land , an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here .