Grant to give area youths second chance, new skills

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published March 14, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated March 13, 2013 at 10:40 a.m.
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— Applications are being accepted for a new Batesville-area program designed to help low-income, high school dropouts earn a GED or high school diploma while getting on-the-job construction training.

A grant of just more than $1 million from the Department of Labor allowed the council to start the program, called YouthBuild. Started in the late ’80s, YouthBuild is a nationwide program that includes more than 250 programs in 46 states. The programs allow low-income youths ages 16 to 24 who have dropped out of high school to learn carpentry skills and participate in community service projects while working toward completing a high school diploma or GED.

The group plans to hold three eight-month sessions with up to 25 students in each session. Half of the students’ time will be spent in a classroom environment, with 40 percent of their time focused on construction training and 10 percent spent in community service. The program is open to low-income dropouts living in Independence, Jackson, White and Woodruff counties.

Services will be provided at no cost to students, who will get a stipend of $7.50 per hour for the work they do, both in the classroom and during construction training at Habitat for Humanity build sites.

“It’s a stipend, so there are no taxes withheld; there is no taxable income,” said Dennis Butler, education specialist with the program. “We’ll provide them with snacks, tools, clothing and try to help with transportation where we can.”

State-certified teachers will conduct the classroom portion of the program, and Butler said several area high schools have agreed to accept work from the program as credit toward graduation.

The program will be run by the Batesville-based nonprofit Northcentral Arkansas Development Council Inc., which applied for the grant in May of last year.

“We heard that we got it in November and have been trying to put things together ever since,” said Connie Jackson, NADC YouthBuild director.

In addition to working on Habitat for Humanity homes in the area, Jackson said, the YouthBuild students will take part in construction projects for the city of Batesville and community-service projects at local schools and parks, including getting ball fields ready for the season.

The counties that YouthBuild serves were specifically targeted for their high number of low-income high school dropouts, Jackson said.

Though the program is being funded primarily through the grant, Jackson said donations of snacks, drinks, tools and gas cards are needed.

Above all, Butler said, there is a need to get the word out about the program. Those interested in participating, donating or getting more information may call (870) 793-2561.

“We’re going to be able to give kids a second chance, give them a chance to give back to their community and learn skills that can help them become successful,” Butler said.

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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