Wearing a white hard hat on his head, a tool belt around his waist, and with sweat dripping down his face, Samuel Padilla smiled as he made his way through the empty doorway of a house he is helping to build.
The 17-year-old was busy measuring and cutting sheetrock Thursday for the ceiling of a three-bedroom, one bath home that's taking shape at the Kern County Fair.
This home is the first one built by Habitat for Humanity Golden Empire at the fair since 2009 and the 11th home built at the fair since 2000. Once it's completed, it will be moved to a lot in south Bakersfield for a family to call its own.
The work done on the homes by teens and young adults is part of training offered by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools.
"I needed something to do every day and I didn't want to return to where I was before," Padilla said. The teen said he was in custody for a year and two months for burglary, but was chosen for the YOUTHBUILD program in August.
YOUTHBUILD is a comprehensive education and employment program for high school dropouts and students who are in school but are behind in basic skills.
"This is a second chance at life for me because while I was in custody I forgot what it felt like to be out here, free," Padilla said.
YOUTHBUILD founder Joseph White, 44, partnered with Habitat because he wants to give students another opportunity at life. White taught construction for three years at Redwood High School, a juvenile treatment facility, and found it a perfect match to use his experience there.
"We can do a lot in the classroom with books and videos but they really don't learn until they get their hands on a hammer or piece of wood," White said.
YOUTHBUILD is for youth ages 17 to 24. Students spend 50 percent of their time in class earning credits toward graduation, 40 percent of their time at hands-on training construction sites and 10 percent in leadership training.
Each group of 15 students is in the program for six months; they get paid a stipend the school district provides.
Dennis Wallace, executive director of the local Habitat for Humanity, said he's impressed with the teen's speed and efficiency.
"These are at-risk kids and to give them the opportunity to be off the streets and possibly get a career out of this training is what it's all about," Wallace said.
NOT ANOTHER STATISTIC
For the past couple of weeks, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., 20-year-old Destiny Johnson has followed her teachers' direction on how to put together a house, something she never thought she'd do.
"Step by step they show us how to work on the house and knowing I helped build rooms in that house that a family will live in, is a pretty amazing feeling," Johnson said.
Johnson is 55 credits shy of earning her high school diploma. She said her life changed when she joined YOUTHBUILD.
She now wants a career in construction.
"If I weren't here, I'd probably be locked up in jail or be dead somewhere, just like everyone says," Johnson said.
Another teen who has seen his life changed after being a part of the program is 20-year-old Fredrick Marks.
Although he was hesitant to submit his application to YOUTHBUILD, he decided to leave it up to luck if he'd like it.
"I had never done construction but I wasn't doing much anyways and so far, I know I made the right choice," Marks said. "This gave me a light, that I can still do something with my life."