You’ve never seen a school like this.
Build UP is unique not just in Birmingham, Alabama. It’s unique compared to schools across the country.
Through Build UP, students from the Western Birmingham area gain not only academic skills but also hands-on, in-demand workforce skills.
True, other schools offer workforce programs. But Build UP goes further. Because, at the same time students are learning, they are rebuilding their community. The result is not only a clear path toward rewarding careers, it’s also safer, more modern housing.
Build UP offers a unique school experience in that students are paid apprentices. They gain tools necessary to lead successful lives, such as job-readiness skills, leadership training, a high school diploma, and an associate degree. Along the way, Build UP students are empowered to become future leaders and change agents in their communities.
Meet Build UP CEO Mark Martin.
Martin, a native of Alabama, had extensive experience in education and public service before he created Build UP in Ensley. Seeing first-hand examples of what moved the needle in education – and being frustrated by challenges to implement new practices in established systems – he took a leap of faith and created something that did not exist before.
Martin believes taking the time to empower students while tapping into the hope they have for developing a thriving community is the key to revitalizing underserved areas. And that is what Build UP has done in Ensley and plans to start in Titusville.
A grant from the Regions Foundation is helping Build UP expand to Titusville and start building a second campus at the Titusville Cultural Center. The Regions Foundation is a nonprofit primarily funded by Regions Bank that supports community investments in education, workforce readiness, and other programs.
“In light of the global pandemic that we’ve faced since last year, we’ve had such a tough financial situation. I honestly don’t think we would have survived without the gifts like the ones the Regions Foundation has provided that will help us transition into the new Titusville Cultural Center,” said Martin. “The new center will be a hub of positive activities and energies, youth investment, and adult workforce development. We are turning it into a place of hope, skills, and empowerment to the community.”
You can’t help but feel an overwhelming hope for the future after you tour the school and the neighbohood, seeing the students learning math while cutting 2x4s, engaged with their teacher, and later touring the future homes of their students, bring Build UP’s vision to life.
Marta Self, Executive Director of the Regions Foundation
Martin’s hope for Build UP students is that they know people care, and the community supports them.
“For too often in our country’s history, black and brown people and low-income people have suffered. Not as a result of things they’ve done, but because of systemic issues, and that’s what we’re tackling with Build UP,” said Martin. “We are empowering students and expecting that our young people, as they are lifted up, will become the changemakers in their communities.”
Meet Torrey Washington, Build UP student.
The organization envisions expanding across the country and giving other students hope for rebuilding their communities. And by the end of the summer, 10 families should be placed in homes renovated by Build UP students. Families like 19-year-old Lawson State student Torrey Washington, his mother, and four siblings. Since the program’s inception, Washington has been a Build UP student, and now he is on the path to be a homeowner.
Washington says he initially came to the organization to make money for the summer.
“Make money to go to school? Sign me up,” he thought.
It turned out to be the best decision of his life. He explained he is proud to be part of the program and to be given the opportunity to provide his family with a home where they can be safe, secure, and happy.
“Anytime I need the Build UP staff, they are always here to help, and it feels amazing knowing you have people who care about you and who will help you,” said Washington. “Build UP has done so much for me, and it has changed my life. I would tell other young people that Build UP is worth it. I have no regrets; I’m happy, my family is happy, I’m about to be a homeowner and make a difference in my community.”
“House by house, Ensley gets better by the beautifully renovated homes, the cared-for yards, the pride that homeownership brings, and the confident smile of a Build UP graduate who now has a diploma, a trade, and a house. And that’s the sustainable neighborhood development we like to see,” said Marta Self.
As students and their families move into the rented homes remodeled by Build UP, they are required to complete the entire program that includes obtaining a high school diploma, an associate degree, and earning a specialized path. Once on stable economic footing, Build UP program graduates are given the opportunity to purchase their homes with zero-interest mortgages, provided by WorksFirst, a new, Birmingham-based Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that Regions Community Development Manager, Paul Carruthers, helped inspire Martin and Team to launch.
The process is designed for students to gain and build wealth through homeownership, stabilize the community, and have the opportunity to pass wealth through generations.
Success. And prosperity.
Now you’ve seen it – created by a school like none other.
The Today Show featured Build Up on their YouTube web series, Sunday Today. Watch their story here:
About Regions Foundation
Regions Foundation supports community investments that positively impact the communities served by Regions Bank. The Foundation engages in a grantmaking program focused on priorities including economic and community development; education and workforce readiness; and financial wellness. The Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation funded primarily through contributions from Regions Bank.