Building Walls and Confidence

Relationships. It wasn't a word I had expected to hear very much during my recent visit to Kingdom Prep High School, but it came up in every conversation. Each participant, volunteer, and staff member I talked to highlighted the importance of relationships in the Build Up: Mentoring Teens in Trades program.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My experience in the trades is quite limited. I took a shop class in high school and built a wooden peg game. I was proud of it then, but it had little significance on my future.

What was evident to me after my visit was that Build Up was different from my experiences in shop class. It wasn’t just about construction skills and training. It was about building something far more lasting, impacting both earthly and eternal futures.

Build Up is a program at Kingdom Prep that teaches construction skills while mentoring teens in trades and providing practical skills and guidance for their future.

Anthony, a senior at Kingdom Prep, has been with Build Up for over a year and has excelled in the program. He proudly led me on a tour, showcasing projects he was actively working on. He pointed out the revamped basketball court, where they removed benches, sanded floors, and then laminated them to make more space for the team. He showed me the library, where a broken chalkboard had been removed, the holes in the drywall patched, and the wall repaired, ready for his paintbrush. He showed me the new drinking fountain where two Build Up volunteers taught students how to do electrical work.

"It started as an opportunity for my future," Anthony shared. "I saw a way to build some skills and to earn some money." Initially, Anthony saw Build Up as a chance to improve his career prospects, a stepping stone towards his dream of working in construction or carpentry.

The skills he learned, from squaring corners to wielding a circular saw, have gone beyond the program, spilling into his everyday life. He built a storage box for himself at home and, together with his Build Up peers, constructed a gate at his house for his mother. "It's rewarding to fix up your own space. It really helped my mom," he confessed, "I can definitely see myself working in construction or carpentry."

Build Up not only offers technical skills but also instills values of community service and giving back. The program offers more than just personal benefits. Anthony's favorite project involved installing a basketball hoop at Lighthouse, a youth center. "The kids there love basketball," he said, "It felt good to give them something nice to play with. We installed a really nice hoop for them."

Another project saw Anthony and his friends repairing and replacing rotten beams on the roof for a community resident who was hospitalized and unable to manage the repairs on her own. "Knowing you've helped someone in need, that's a good feeling," he stated.

But it goes further than that.

Beyond the technical skills, practical applications, and community benefits, Build Up offers something deeper. Ray, a volunteer who drives up once a week from Illinois, shared his favorite aspect of the program: "Building relationships. It takes me back to my own high school days. Teaching them is fun but showing them how to live a life pleasing to God and sharing the gospel - that’s truly special. It reminds me of my high school days. I always think, what was I like at that age? What would I respond to?"

Anthony's journey echoed this sentiment. "Before," he admitted, "I wasn't too much into Jesus. But my faith has grown. I notice God."

The program even offered opportunities beyond their local community. In December, Anthony and another student traveled to Peridot, Arizona, to contribute to constructing a new teacher's dorm on an Apache reservation with Builders For Christ. "It was a whole new experience," he shared. "I learned so much about a new place and even got excused from school!"

Dee, another student drawn to the program by the desire to work with his hands and to "never ever work in an office," also shared his experience with the program. He had participated in the library wall project, fixing the water fountain, and working on the basketball court. "I love learning new things," he said, "Build Up has helped me focus more in school, and it's been a great experience for anyone who enjoys working with their hands. It can take you far."

The Build Up program places a significant emphasis on mentoring and building relationships. According to Jeff, the program director, the importance of strong role models provided by the volunteers is fundamental. Build Up provides a crucial space for guidance and support. “Most of my job is relationship building. We share meals, spend large amounts of time together, and we discuss life’s big questions. We are teaching them valuable skills, yes, but we are also forming bonds that last a lifetime.”

Jeff shared his plan for upcoming projects, such as building tables, chairs, and playhouses for the Kingdom Prep gala and undertaking a few garage remodels in the community.

There is a strong need for more volunteer help to complete these projects and serve more kids like Anthony and Dee. "We're constantly in need of more hands, particularly skilled volunteers who can connect with these young men," Ray added, highlighting the ongoing need for individuals who can share their expertise and life experiences.

It was evident after my visit that the true impact lies in building relationships while teaching skills. By creating a sense of purpose, belonging, and connection, the program empowers kids like Anthony and Dee to choose their unique paths in life.


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