How Far We've Come
The Challenge Program (TCP) started in 1995 when Andrew McKnight, all of 26, was recruited from the Seaport Museum in Philadelphia to revive a Delaware-based boat building program. The aim: to help youth facing serious barriers to employment. The essence of the initiative was to find a way to connect with youth while providing the support and training needed to prepare them for the workplace. After a time, boatbuilding proved a limited vehicle and gave way to timber-framing and rehabbing vacant housing.
In 2001, TCP received its first Workforce Investment Act (WIOA) contract, with the Delaware Department of Labor (DOL), and the construction training program in its present form started to take shape. DOL increased funding in 2006, permitting the hiring of a case manager, a vital addition.
By 2008, TCP had outgrown its small facility and broke ground on its Construction Education and Training Center (CTEC), which began a long-standing relationship with DIGSAU Architects. In 2010, TCP moved into CTEC; that year, it established another long-standing relationship, this time with Aimee Olexy of Talula’s Table, Talula’s Garden and The Love—landmark restaurants in the Philadelphia area. In 2014, DIGSAU won the AIA Pennsylvania Gold Award for their CTEC design.
In 2015, TCP launched CP Furniture (CPF), an employment social enterprise, to provide jobs and enhanced training for TCP graduates, and to help support TCP financially. All proceeds from furniture sales are reinvested in the program. By 2018, CPF was bursting at the seams in its start-up space. It started to raise money for a new facility, turning once again to DIGSAU to design the space.
In May 2021—pandemic be damned—CPF broke ground on its new shop, a massive timber-frame facility (at 14,000 square feet, triple its existing shop space), which our trainees helped to build. In January 2022, CPF raised the final timber, and by March 2023, the shell was complete.
Over 20 years of experience working with trainees has taught us a few lessons, among them:
- To overcome deficits of the magnitude our trainees face, instruction must be accompanied by wrap-around case management services. Our trainees are drawn from communities most in need of services: 90% are food insecure; 75% are in the legal system; 75% have experienced homelessness; 70% have been expelled from or dropped-out of traditional high school.
- A fixed period of assistance doesn’t work. The support we provide is not a one-and-done linear proposition. Life circumstances frequently intervene. Trainees leave and return. We need to be there for them.
- Every trainee has different needs. It’s a mistake to impose a rigid, standardized approach. Good parents adapt to the needs of the individual; so do good instructors.