The YouthBuild program at Community Development Support Association has received a grant of more than $1 million to continue the alternative education program for two more years, U.S. Department of Labor announced Wednesday.

YouthBuild is an education and training program that helps at-risk youth, ages 17 to 24, complete high school or state equivalency degree programs, earn industry-recognized credentials and complete a construction pre-apprenticeship while building housing for low-income or homeless individuals and families in the community.

Department of Labor announced Wednesday $85 million in grants will be awarded to 81 YouthBuild programs in 32 states. CDSA will receive $1,074,567 to cover two nine-month YouthBuild classes over two years and one year of program review. Little Dixie Community Action Agency in Hugo was the only other Oklahoma YouthBuild agency to receive grant funds this cycle, in the amount of more than $789,000.

The total YouthBuild network includes more than 200 programs in 46 states.

Rachel Harris, YouthBuild coordinator with CDSA, said the program focuses on at-risk youth who have dropped out of school, or are at risk for dropping out, and who have been juvenile offenders, are aging out of foster care or are low income.

Each YouthBuild class is geared toward training students to continue one of what Harris calls the “Three Es”: education, employment or enlistment.

The ninth CDSA YouthBuild class graduated in August, and Harris said the new grant will cover classes 10 and 11. Class sizes for the upcoming sessions have been increased to 30 students per nine-month class.

Harris said the upcoming YouthBuild classes will be split, with half the class doing academic work in the classroom while the other half learns construction skills on-the-job, and the two will switch every week.

Students will complete academic work they need, while also learning construction skills, earning their forklift and OSHA certifications, and learning leadership and community service, Harris said.

That combination of classroom and construction work enabled classes eight and nine to rehabilitate a house, which was sold last year to a local low-income family.

While construction remains the backbone of the YouthBuild training program, this grant cycle the program guidelines expanded to also allow training for a limited number of local in-demand job skills.

Harris said in Enid that means YouthBuild also will offer a certified nursing assistant training program, through a partnership with The Commons.

“We’re excited that we’re branching out of construction a little bit,” Harris said, “and offering opportunities for student who are interested in health care.”

Whatever path YouthBuild graduates take after the program, Harris said they will take away valuable skills, along with greater confidence and civic involvement.

“We instill in these students a sense of responsibility, a sense of accountability and community,” Harris said. “We’re able to see how we’re a good fit for them, where traditional high school might not have been a good fit, and prepare them for their future.”

YouthBuild currently is accepting applications for its next class. Applications are available at The Non-Profit Center, 114 S. Independence.

Members of the community also have an opportunity to support YouthBuild by serving as mentors to students. Harris said businesses, civic groups and individuals are welcome and needed to mentor students and discuss career paths in the community.

Anyone interested in volunteering to mentor YouthBuild students can contact Rachel Harris at The Non-Profit Center, (580) 242-6131.

(Photo provided) CDSA YouthBuild student Elora Rowe operates a miter saw while learning construction skills on a project house that later would be sold to a low-income family in Enid.

Story provided by Enid News & Eagle

Written by James Neal