YouthBuild receives $1.1M grant

Staff Report

YouthBuild Rockford, a program of Comprehensive Community Solutions, Inc. (CCS) that provides low-income young people who have dropped out of high school in the Rockford area with vital opportunities to become productive, self-supporting adults, has received a $1.1M grant from the U.S. Department of Labor that will allow them to continue their work for the next two years. This will mark the beginning of the program’s second twenty years serving the community.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced today that 72 YouthBuild programs in 31 states and the District of Columbia would receive two-year grants. Since local YouthBuild programs rely heavily on federal support, supplemented by contributions from foundations and other sources, many of the remaining YouthBuild programs that did not receive grants may be forced to cut back services or even close their doors. Only five of the twelve programs in Illinois that applied received federal funding.

“We are delighted to receive the resources we need to continue helping opportunity youth succeed,” said Kerry Knodle, Executive Director and CEO of CCS. “At the same time, it’s a very troubling day, knowing that so many other excellent YouthBuild programs across the country may be forced to close their doors as a result of federal funding cutbacks and lack of state funds supporting the programs.”

CCS is a nonprofit organization in Rockford that works with young adults, ages 16 to 24, who have dropped out of high school. In the YouthBuild Rockford program, low- income youth enroll full-time for up to a year to earn their GEDs while they learn jobs skills by building affordable housing for low-income or homeless families. YouthBuild Rockford helps students become leaders in their own communities. The program has enrolled more than 1,000 young people in the past 20 years and built or renovated 48 units of affordable housing in Rockford neighborhoods.

“Success should never be determined by where a person starts in life,” Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said. “YouthBuild equips young people with the tools they need to realize their potential and the job skills they need to climb career ladders and punch their tickets to the middle class. Closing opportunity gaps for America’s young people is a matter of basic fairness and critical to our ability to compete in the global economy.”

Today’s announcement marks the first round of YouthBuild grants awarded under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The law, which became effective on July 1, 2015, led to several changes to YouthBuild. These changes include putting greater focus on improving the quality and energy efficiency of buildings serving low-income and homeless individuals and families; expanding the eligibility to include youth who have dropped out of high school but subsequently re-enrolled; and supporting further program alignment with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Youth Build’s mission aligns closely with the goals of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which seeks to address persistent opportunity gaps facing boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can realize their full potential.

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