The Challenge Program in Wilmington, Delaware

Up to the Challenge

Trainees at The Challenge Program have recently completed a number of unique projects, including re-doing the windows of the Queen Theater on Market Street in Wilmington, making tables for a new restaurant in Newark and building an environmentally green training center at its headquarters at the Kalmar Nyckel Shipyard.

The Wilmington-based program is a private nonprofit that offers construction training to at-risk youth ages 18 to 21. The program, started in 1995, helps trainees transition into the workforce by offering construction skills, help in getting a high school diploma or GED, and assistance in landing a job.

“The biggest issue for our kids is having a stable home life,” says Andrew McKnight, the program’s executive director. “They need consistency at home so they don’t have hurdles to get to work. The don’t understand what it means to come to work every day.”

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The Challenge Program requires its trainees to hit 100 percent attendance and be on time every day.

The program takes 12 trainees at a time, dividing them into three work crews. Each year, 25 to 30 new trainees are brought into the program. In 2011, the job placement rate was 89 percent and this year it’s at 76 percent. The target is 69 percent placement, which the program has surpassed during each of the past six years, says McKnight.

“Their job placement depends on their performance,” he says. “There are a lot of dead-end jobs out there. We tell them if they want to make $10 an hour more, they have to put in the work.”

( —Drew Ostroski

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