David Brown spent years looking for work. Now, three weeks into a new job, his boss can’t stop gushing about him.
“I was having a hard time,” Brown, 24, said about his long search. Sighing as he leaned forward, placing his arms on his long legs, brushing his curly brown hair from his forehead, he said, “I really wanted a job.”
Through a youth fellowship program with the local nonprofit Urban Hands, Brown is now employed, and proud to be contributing financially to his household.
“It helps having a third person in there with a decent income,” Brown said.
The job placement program aims to connect youth who face significant barriers to employment — such as homelessness or a criminal background — with businesses in the Greenwood community. The program emerged in the aftermath of the 2016 gas explosion.
Even before the explosion, Greenwood was a tight-knit community. Afterward, those connections multiplied, said Joey DeYoung, the executive director of Urban Hands.
“Everyone was looking out for other people's best interests throughout the process,” DeYoung said. “Relationships deepened because there was this shared chaos.”
Urban Hands and DeYoung gathered artists to paint murals on plywood boards covering damaged windows following the explosion. Through that art project, he developed relationships with local business owners that he would later use for the job placement program.
“There was a desire to do more than just sell pizza or gyros or guitars,” he said. “[The businesses] got to experience people going the next step for them after the explosion.”
Participating in the jobs program gave businesses an opportunity to give back to the community that supported them as they rebuilt, DeYoung said.
After several rounds of interviews, Brown was one of five youth chosen for the program's first class, which began work in March. Acceptance into the fellowship program didn’t guarantee Brown a job — only a recommendation from DeYoung. Brown had to go through the hiring process like any other candidate.
“Businesses actually make the decision to hire them or not, which I think is in the best interest of everyone,” DeYoung said. “There’s more buy-in from both sides.”
Brown was hired by Harbor Creek Farms and now performs a variety of tasks for the vegan food company. Despite the almost two hour commute, it was evident the Kent resident was determined to be at work each morning as he listed the best public transportation routes for various traffic conditions.
“If you want to get a job anywhere, whether it’s Amazon or Razzís Pizzeria, knowing someone there helps,” said DeYoung. “Urban Hands is building that bridge between a young person who really wants a job and can be successful, and an employer.”
DeYoung said he wants the program to be more than just an avenue to a job. He wants to provide young people like Brown experiences that will prompt them to think about their futures.
He said he plans to phase in other opportunities — like mentorships, mental health services, financial counsel and job coaching — but the first step for many of these young people is a stable paycheck.
“Just getting a job, that’s plenty, that’s a great place to start, we can add those other things [later],” DeYoung said.
As for Brown, he plans to stick with his new job for a while and see where it goes.
“Getting the job was the most important thing for me,” Brown said.