Building Homes and Hopes: The Transformative Service of Youthbuild Las Vegas

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Journal of Services Marketing

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Purpose: YouthBuild programs are uniquely designed to address the status of unemployed and uneducated young men and women who are disconnected from work and education. This study, on YouthBuild Las Vegas (YBLV), aims to fill the call for more research on transformative service research, specifically related to education, poverty and well-being. The program educates “opportunity youth” in construction skills while also encouraging progression toward a GED/HiSet or high school diploma. Service providers can better understand how to increase and support reconnection and well-being, especially among low-income individuals in communities with great needs for support services. Design/methodology/approach: This yearlong qualitative research study intended to better understand transformative service within the context of former high school dropouts previously without a path to a productive future. YBLV was an ideal single-site case study because it was bound by space, people, organization and time. The study followed one YBLV class from admission through graduation; the qualitative work with the organization started prior to the students’ enrollment and continued after the students graduated. Primary data collections were interviews and observations. Additional data collection occurred in the forms of written documents, as well as photos and videos. Findings: YBLV succeeded because of service providers’ attention to the funds of knowledge of the student population and adapting the format and structure of programs to adult learners, developing mentors for consumers and acknowledging the context and layers of knowledge that consumers brought to the program. The students were able to experience reconnection and increased well-being because of the service providers’ impact throughout the program. Research limitations/implications: Transformative service research (TSR) research has focused on areas as diverse as health care and homelessness, whereas the lens of funds of knowledge has primarily been applied within educational settings. It would be worthwhile to apply funds of knowledge framework beyond education yet still within the TSR agenda. There are also opportunities to apply the theory to other vulnerable populations. Broadening the scope of reconnection and well-being TSR research far beyond YouthBuild may identify additional or other synergies between these areas. Practical implications: The growing body of research on TSR suggested a gap in understanding how service providers can support consumers in poverty and a need for greater well-being. This study on YouthBuild highlighted the phenomenon among low-income, undereducated, urban young adults and while the goal of qualitative research is not to be generalizable, specific examples such as adapting programs and structures to low-income consumers, developing mentors to model wanted behavior and goal-setting and acknowledging the funds of knowledge that consumers bring to situations, can be generic ingredients for future transformative service projects. Social implications: Research has demonstrated that public investment in programs that assist youth toward a positive trajectory and greater well-being is much more beneficial than disciplinary measures such as increased spending on policing and prisons. Employment and educational training programs have led to measurable success and when disconnected youth have greater vocational training and high school completion, they and the broader economy experience improved outcomes. Therefore, from a policy perspective, YouthBuild and programs like it emphasize growth, development and well-being for undereducated and low-income individuals. Originality/value: The funds of knowledge theoretical framework are new to the Journal of Services Marketing (JSM). That framework coupled with the population of former high school dropouts in a second-chance school and a focus on service providers and well-being within a poverty context, all contribute to the paper’s originality. Reconnection is also a relatively new concept for readers of JSM. These three areas: funds of knowledge, reconnection and TSR are the backbone of this research.


Case study method; Disconnected youth; Education; Higher education; Job skills; Opportunity youth; Service innovation; Transformative; Transformative service; Well-being


Community-Based Research | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology



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