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Struggling youth eye future in College Pt.

Two years ago, Jose Ramirez, an 18-year-old resident of Corona, dropped out of Flushing High School. He was bored with his classes, more interested in basketball and his music.

But when Ramirez recently turned 18, he began to rethink his decision.

“I was like, I’m getting old, I need to get my life straight,” he said.

On Friday, Ramirez joined a dozen other youths at the Home Depot in College Point in what he hoped would be a first step toward a solid career. The group spent the day learning about the trades involved in working at the store as part of a program called Youthbuild.

Started in East Harlem in 1979, Youthbuild focuses on giving youth who struggle in high school the work and education experience they need.

“It’s really a program for at-risk youth, high school dropouts, to give them a chance,” said Roger Stewart, who has run the Queens Youthbuild office at the Flushing YMCA for six years.

Stewart works to secure jobs for the 30 to 35 youths he helps each year. The Flushing YMCA also provides a place for the participants to study. Although most no longer attend high school, many have arrangements with schools to complete course work on their own, which enables them to earn a degree.

Stewart’s goal is to make sure the participants enroll in college or land steady employment.

“For some reason, high school doesn’t work for everybody,” Stewart said. “Youthbuild is an alternative, where they can go to school or get training.”

In his years with the program, about 90 percent of the participants have gone to college or earned steady employment, Stewart said.

The Youthbuild program is primarily funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, although it does receive private donations from corporations such as Home Depot.

Ray Roop, manager of the College Point store, said he had hired about a dozen people through the Youthbuild program last year on a part-time basis. Two of the workers are still with the store, he said.

Roop said he hoped to hire more Youthbuild participants in time for the store’s busy season, which usually begins when temperatures heat up in March.

“We want someone with work ethics, and we can get them to the next level,” Roop said.

With all the construction in Queens, Home Depots have fared extremely well. The Flushing location on Avery Avenue is one of the busiest locations in the nation. While the College Point location gets about half the amount of traffic as the Flushing location, Roop said the store still is busy.

Ramirez said he would be happy to work at the store. As a painter, he said he had an interest in construction, and hoped the job would eventually lead to training in computers.

Melissa Poole, an 18-year-old Jamaica resident, also said she would be happy to join the store.

“I like working with my hands,” she said. “Building stuff is cool.”

Poole said she wanted to eventually attend a business college. She said the social scene contributed to her decision to leave high school.

“In high school, there’s peer pressure in everything. But in Youthbuild, there’s not as many kids,” she said. “There are not as many distractions.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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