Juvenile detention center finds results in welding program

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By DREW TAYLOR, Tuscaloosa News
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Cathy Wood says a lack of motivation is common among kids when they first come to the Tuscaloosa County Juvenile Detention Center.
Wood, the center’s director, said the center uses different programs to keep its more than 50 residents occupied and out of trouble. But the center’s administrator says one program stands out for producing significant results: welding.
“Hands-on activities always seem to be really positive for the kids, so we decided to do a trial run,” Wood said of the program’s beginnings in 2010.
Wood has seen boys and girls in the program pick up better math skills through the program — “incidental math” as she calls it because of measurements and numbers needed — and even better motivation for some to take the GED so they can apply their skills toward a trade.
“We got to thinking that some of the kids who had dropped out of school, this is a skill they can use,” she said.
In fact, the program has been so popular at the center that there are plans to add a wing to the building that would be dedicated to welding. Wood is hoping to raise more than $200,000 to build a 20-by-60 square foot building that would hold four welding bays, as well as a classroom for those taking GED classes.
The program recently received a boon in the form of a $100,000 donation from the Nick’s Kids Foundation, a nonprofit started by Nick and Terry Saban to help different community groups.
Terry Saban said she feels like a welding program can do a lot of good for minors in the center and can help them stay out when they leave.
“The important thing is to help them get out into society and be productive so they don’t get back into the system,” Saban said. “Hopefully, when they leave the center, they will have a job and be productive.”
Wood said the welding program is treated as an earned privilege at the center, meaning residents who behave and do not get involved in fights are candidates for the program. Two days per week, eight residents learn about welding for three hours per day.
Glenn Snyder, a welder at McAbee Construction in Tuscaloosa, has been teaching welding at the detention center for more than a year.
“My motivation is to get them comfortable with a type of welding where they can get something behind them that no one can take away,” Snyder said.
Welding is a heavily-sought trade in the Tuscaloosa area, Snyder said, with base salaries starting as high as $17.50 for those first entering an apprenticeship. From there, rates only get higher with the more experience the welder has.
“We’ve had some residents leave here to go off and do this,” Snyder said.
Tuscaloosa County Probate Judge Hardy McCollum said having a program like welding available to troubled youth is very important and represents a wise investment.
“A program like this gives a 12-, 14-, 15-, 16-year-old the opportunity to do something, to be exposed to some skills they can use later in life,” McCollum said. “Any time you can do that, it’s better to have them working in that area as opposed to just sitting in a cell doing nothing.”
Wood said that with the Nick’s Kids donation and other money coming to the center, ground could be broken for the new welding wing by the spring.
Those interested in donating money to the center can do so by making out the check to “Tuscaloosa Childcare” and mailing it to 5941 12th Ave. East, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35405.