IN JANUARY, ABOUT A dozen inner-city young men in Nashville began training as tradesmen under a unique program called Y-Build that's aimed at giving impoverished and at-risk people a chance to enter the construction field and improve their lives. The program, which is a joint effort between the local branch of the Young Men's Christian Association and Beazer Homes USA, expects this group to be just as successful as the first “class” of 14 young men chosen last summer, 12 of whom are now employed full-time with local contractors.

“I want to see if we just got lucky, but I'd be elated if we have anywhere near the success we had with our first group,” says Ed Phillips, president emeritus of Beazer's Nashville division and one of the driving forces behind Y-Build, which got off the ground in June, after 18 months of discussion and preparation.

Beazer's involvement in Y-Build has been indispensable, says Phillips. Ed Snyder, the builder's vice president–construction quality and workplace safety, developed a two-week intensified instruction curriculum that breaks down the construction of a house into five phases. Snyder and three other Beazer officials taught the first classes, trained the program's instructors, and promised to come back to help instruct subsequent groups of students. Beazer created a PowerPoint presentation to explain Y-Build to contractors and suppliers, around 50 of whom now sponsor the program and have committed to providing the apprentices with jobs and mentors. And to help fund this program, Phillips started a small home building company called Dreamscape, which last fall sold the first of three houses in whose construction Y-Build's students participated.

HANDS ON: The Y-Build program trains participants onsite and in the classroom. Nashville's YMCA recruits and selects program candidates, who are between 18 and 24 years old (an age group with more people in prison than in college nationwide). They all go through two weeks of intensive classroom and jobsite training, at which point the students are placed in jobs with participating contractor companies. (Phillips says most of the guys start out making about $9 per hour.) A critical element of Y-Build, though, is the lifestyle support it offers, including transportation to and from work, as well as dormitory-style living quarters—in what was an abandoned preparatory school—where the students receive counseling on everything from learning how to fill out a checkbook to buying a car. Phillips believes Y-Build is succeeding where other social programs have failed because it removes participants from “toxic” living environments and gives them support.

Y-Build pays the students during their initial apprenticeships, which last between two and four weeks. “All we're asking is that employers give these guys a chance,” says Phillips. “When people talk about ‘win-win,' I usually start looking for the door. But this is definitely something that benefits everyone involved. There's no downside for the sponsors, because we'll pay the apprentices until the employer is happy with their work.” One of the other benefits of the program, says Phillips, is that it allows students to try out different trades, like framing and electrical, to see which one they like best.

He adds happily that the participants so far have taken to the instruction “like a duck to water. We couldn't believe how these guys came every day and paid attention.” Phillips wants to offer this training to new recruits quarterly and eventually develop a training regimen for commercial construction.

But that will require another revenue stream, as funding from the YMCA and Dreamscape defrayed only $100,000 of the program's first-year budget of $180,000. So last fall, the YMCA began soliciting donors to support Y-Build financially. J. Lawrence, the Y's executive director of urban services, says that he received strong interest from the Associated Builders and Contractors group. Lawrence and Phillips also want to see Y-Build expand to other markets.

Lawrence says that he's discussed the program with the staff of the YMCA in Houston, “and they were very interested.”