The Batesville YouthBuild program has only been in place since March, but a few weeks ago, eight men and women made up its first graduating class.
The Northcentral Arkansas Development Council’s YouthBuild program is funded by the Department of Labor and targets 16- to 24-year-olds who have dropped out of school and want a second chance, said Byron Skinner, construction instructor for YouthBuild.
“They can learn one out of seven construction trades,” he said. “They can learn carpentry, electrical, plumbing, brick masonry, facilities maintenance, landscaping, or painting and finishing.”
In addition to learning construction skills, the students are provided with an alternative education and employment pathway that enables them to obtain a high school diploma or GED and advance toward postsecondary education or career-oriented employment.
Dennis Butler, YouthBuild education specialist, said there are currently 24 students enrolled in the program.
“These students a lot of times are at an economic disadvantage or have been in the court system,” he said. “[Before they are enrolled], they go through a one- to two-week mental-toughness period, where we are checking them out to see if they really want to be here.”
Once students are enrolled, they spend 50 percent of their time in class, 40 percent learning construction skills and 10 percent doing community service.
Butler is no stranger to education. He worked in the Batesville School System for more than 35 years, so he is used to teaching kids, he said.
“Once they’re enrolled, they receive a stipend,” Butler said. “Their time is based on $8-an-hour segments, but if they miss or fail a drug test, they don’t get paid.”
Skinner had a 20-year career in construction and was a site manager for Habitat for Humanity before taking the job with YouthBuild. His ties with Habitat for Humanity proved to be just what the program needed.
“On the Habitat site, the students can do construction training or community service,” he said.
Butler said the program has been a success so far.
“Having been in education, [I know that] these are the students who fall through the cracks,” he said. “For some, this is their last hope.”
YouthBuild doesn’t recruit students, Butler said.
“We aren’t trying to compete with schools,” he said. “If students can’t succeed elsewhere, they can here.”
Butler said that if needed, transportation is provided for students, along with some supportive services.
“We provide them with basic tools and clothing [for classes],” he said.
Cleburne, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Sharp, White and Woodruff counties are served by the YouthBuild program.
More information about the YouthBuild program is available by calling Butler or Skinner at (870) 793-2561.
Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.