YouthBuild Louisville: A Graduate, Instructor and Family Structure

by Stephanie Zerweck

YouthBuild Louisville, in Louisville, Ky., opened with its inaugural class in 2001.  Among those first enrolled was area resident DeMarcus Keene.  However, his graduation would be some years in the making, informed by difficult personal experiences that left their collective mark on his trajectory.

Photo courtesy of YouthBuild Louisville

A Student’s Legacy

Despite his initial desire to use YouthBuild to catapult himself into productivity, personal growth and prosperity for starting his own family, he said, he couldn’t leave street life—and its pitfalls—behind.

“I just stopped going [to class],” said Keene, “because [of] some trauma—my cousin died, a whole bunch of other stuff, …I became homeless.”

Before he could leave his mark on the YB Louisville program, Keene said, he first had to get out of his own way.  After nearly three years, he did.

Returning to the program in 2004, Keene graduated in 2005.  During his time within the program, according to YB Louisville Director Lynn Rippy, Keene demonstrated self-reflectiveness, energy, inquisitiveness and a desire to lead other students.

Keene’s graduation was commemorated with him earning YB Louisville’s Marsha Weinstein Award, the “strongest leadership” award they offer, said Rippy, for his success within the local program—an accompanying $500 scholarship, he spent on the tools of his trade to immediately enter his field.

All In the (Industry) Details

“He did one year—a fulltime year—of AmeriCorps with us after he graduated,” said Rippy.  From there, Keene accepted a variety of external, industry positions.

More common as a cultural standard of builders on construction worksites of decades past than in current year, workers would often leave their initials, a then-current newspapers or other small “relics” as a type of time capsule for a build.

“As we build houses,” said Rippy, “we always let our students or ask our students to leave their mark behind and one of the things that DeMarcus always did was sign every board that he could to make sure that he left his permanent mark on the house, underneath the drywall.”

According to HBI Associate Vice President of Certification & Training Stephen Cousins, responsible for the development of HBI’s Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate Training (PACT) curriculum now used by YB Louisville, builders do leave a mark, but it’s usually of architectural significance versus signing a foundation scratching in their initials into the framework—that transference of skill is one expected result of the training Keene has received from HBI.

“When that student is ready to leave, [and] you’re thinking, ‘I would hire that kid if I had a job opening,’ as an instructor—that’s when you know you’ve done a good job,” said Cousins.  “The other good thing is, after a student leaves–could be a year, could be six months, could be less time–when a student drives up in their own personal car, shows you their most recent check and is just beaming with success and pride and self-esteem.”

An Educator’s Signature

Now, an educator, Keene returned to YB Louisville as its Construction Manager after a series of other industry jobs.  Even with signing of barns, gazebos and other structures still abundant, Keene’s value is reflected in the “architecture” of family he’s helped to reinforce—the family-style culture established through his teaching and openness about his past, the instructors he’s responsible for hiring and the projects he’s leading, including a new student residence.

“We purchased a property about a block away from our campus and we’re turning it into a home that will have four bedrooms,” said Rippy. “Three will be double-occupancy bedrooms and then one is for an adult leader.  It’s for young people who are housing-insecure and need a place to stay while they’re in YouthBuild [Louisville].”

According to Rippy, Keene’s latest class includes 18 students returned after initial COVID-19 pandemic closures, and another 12 set for September 2020, who’ve received orientation, with on-site classes ranging 6-8 for social-distancing purposes.

Keene said, his family now consists of his four children and wife, as well as students, staff and graduates of the YB Louisville program.  He hopes to create the level of support for his YB Louisville family that he experienced.

“I knew, without anything, I could come back here and get help,” said Keene.  “If it’s help finding a job, if it’s help paying a bill, help getting food in the refrigerator, they made a place that we [could] come, so that it would be easy to transition after [graduating].”

In August of 2020, Keene was recognized again with his most recent awards for Instructor of the Year via both local and national programs.