AMIkids Beaufort receives $1.1 million grant to help at-risk youth

Thanks to a federal grant and the local arm of a national nonprofit, area teens and young adults who have dropped out of school may soon get a second chance to turn their lives around through a nationally recognized job training program.

AMIkids Beaufort, which serves at-risk youth from across South Carolina, was recently awarded a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor for a program that features nationally accredited construction and welding training.

A comprehensive educational and training program, YouthBuild gives teens and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who have dropped out of high school a chance to earn their GED while learning much-needed job skills.

The pre-apprenticeship program also provides job readiness training, leadership development opportunities and career-focused mentoring.

The organization was notified it had won the sizable grant for the program in December and has been working out its details with those from the national organization, said John Harris, president of AMIkids Beaufort Board of Trustees.

Vocational education and job placement programming is something AMIKids Beaufort already offered, but the addition of YouthBuild will help expand its services and reach even more boys and young men, Harris said.

“… So that when our young men leave our program, they take with them not only the tools to stay out of trouble with the law, but also the tools to help them find decent jobs with decent pay,” he said.

A national organization, AMIkids has been serving at-risk youth for more than 30 years and has 44 programs spread out across nine states.

South Carolina has several AMIkids programs in different regions of the state. Each sends its area’s at-risk youth to another region so that kids are less likely to run away or leave the program, Harris said.

Participants for YouthBuild will be referred to the program by the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice.

Harris said for many of the boys, the program is their last chance before winding up behind bars.

“One thing that helps them to stay out of trouble, is that we offer behavior modification,” he said. “That’s the whole key behind this program.”

Harris went on to say it costs the state of South Carolina three times more to house and imprison youth than to it does to train them through their program.

“(Also), our program has a nearly 80 percent success rate versus if they go behind bars,” he said.

The YouthBuild program will begin in May at AMIkids’ Beaufort campus in Dale. The campus features an onsite classroom and construction training facility.

Participants will receive GED test preparation in a classroom setting and vocational training using the National Center for Construction Education and Research Core’s Welding I curriculum and OSHA’s 10-hour curriculum.

Through a partnership with LowCountry Habitat for Humanity, participants will also help build or renovate a home or other construction project and will receive additional training at other active construction sites, Harris said.

“They’ll put in between 140 to 200 hours each,” Harris said.

The program is a win-win since participants gain real-world job site skills while communities are able to fill jobs with skilled local workers, Harris said.

AMIkids Beaufort was the only program in South Carolina to receive the YouthBuild grant, and one of only 64 in the nation. It is only the second time the national organization has been awarded the grant. Baton Rouge was awarded a YouthBuild grant in 2019, Harris said.

The three-year grant comes with a targeted goal of reaching at least 64 at-risk youth and young adults. In addition, the AMIkids Beaufort is required to raise matching dollars or $80,700 over the life of the grant.

The organization plans to make the program the focus of its signature fundraising event, an annual croquet tournament at Brays Island Plantation. The tournament is planned for May 1 and 2.

Those interested in learning more about the tournament or in making a donation can find out more at (click on “find a local program” and enter “Beaufort”), or can email or call 843-263-5329.

This feature was originally published on The Island News by Mindy Lucas