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At-risk LI youths help build affordable home

Twenty young adults stood shivering with a cluster of public officials Thursday to celebrate the completion of Long Island's first affordable home built by at-risk youths.

They posed for photos on the porch of the three-bedroom house in Brentwood as Islip Supervisor Phil Nolan cut a thick red ribbon, then pressed inside to admire its "green" features - particularly, on this chilly morning, the home's radiant-heat wood floors.

The house was built over the past two years by previous students in the United Way of Long Island YouthBuild program, in which high school dropouts earn their GEDs and learn construction skills at a center in Deer Park.

Standing in the home's kitchen, where the new residents had set out cookies, YouthBuild student Katrina Reyes, 24, of Wyandanch, said: "I can't wait. I can't wait to build the next one."

Reyes said she joined the 10-month program last fall because she couldn't support herself working jobs at King Kullen and Stop & Shop.

"When you're younger, you don't want to listen to anybody," she said. "I dropped out. I moved out of my parents' house. I took on that adult role that I thought I could do."

YouthBuild graduates who had worked on the home were unable to attend the news conference, which pleased the program's directors: Every one of the grads was in college or at work, they said.

"One of them is working for National Grid, another is a nursing assistant," said Rick Wertheim, United Way Long Island senior vice president for housing and green development.

The Brentwood house is now home to Benjamin and Kordula Sosa, their 16-month-old son, and Kordula Sosa's mother. The Sosas, who grew up in Islip and Bay Shore and moved to Kew Gardens, won an affordable housing lottery held last year by the Islip Community Development Agency.

"When we lived in the city, we never thought that we would be able to own a home," said Benjamin Sosa, 27. Thanks to solar panels and other green features, the Sosas' electric bill is a quarter of what it was in Queens.

Forty YouthBuild students this spring will build two more green homes in Brentwood, and renovate two in Westbury and New Cassel, Wertheim said. Another green home is planned for next year in Babylon Town.

Reyes said she hopes to find work in construction, building highways and bridges, or perhaps doing deconstruction, in which building components are salvaged and recycled.

"I feel like I'm getting somewhere," she said.


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