RRSTAR by By Brittany Keeperman
Staff writer

Posted Jul. 20, 2016 at 3:00 PM
Updated Jul 20, 2016 at 5:15 PM

ROCKFORD — More people will be able to gain work experience and earn money for college through Rockford’s YouthBuild program this year.
In August, YouthBuild Rockford will receive a $99,610 grant from its parent organization, in part because of its special designation as an AmeriCorps program, which allows participants to earn grants for post-secondary education and vocational training. In the past year, the program accommodated 40 trainees and an AmeriCorps volunteer serving as part of the national program.
This year’s award is up from the $85,000 provided last year and the extra cash will allow 10 more students to enroll in the program.
Right now, the waiting list sits at about 80, said Paul Rouhas, YouthBuild Rockford’s community service coordinator.
“We always have people trying to get into this program,” he said. “We will continue to contact the 80 from this year and take new applications”
The money for the Rockford program comes from an $8.5 million AmeriCorps grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service to YouthBuild USA Inc. YouthBuild Rockford is one of six YouthBuild programs in Illinois that will receive funding for YouthBuild AmeriCorps programs. The money headed to Rockford’s program will pay for staff salaries, tools and supplies.
YouthBuild is a national nonprofit program that gives people between 16 and 24 years old the opportunity to earn a high school equivalency certificate, gain work experience, and build and renovate affordable housing.
YouthBuild Rockford trainees have been building and renovating houses for the past 20 years. They’ve completed 49 houses and are working on a 50th. YouthBuild Rockford was founded in 1995 and became affiliated with AmeriCorps in 1996.
In the fall, YouthBuild Rockford trainees will help the Rockford Housing Authority build an affordable housing complex on South New Towne Drive, Rouhas said. The 49-unit development is part of RHA’s plan to overhaul more than 1,000 public housing units over the next five years.
The YouthBuild Rockford program essentially operates with grant funding, Rouhas said. This year’s budget was $597,000. Along with YouthBuild AmeriCorps funding, the program is currently taking advantage of a $40,000 United Way grant and a U.S. Department of Labor grant that will provide $1.1 million over three years.
Program Director Jill Boepple said YouthBuild Rockford is a valuable asset for youths in the community.
“It’s not just about getting them to a specific career path,” she said. “It’s about life skills, leadership, employability and all the soft skills we take for granted.”
Brittany Keeperman: 815-987-1395; bkeeperman@rrstar.com; @BKeeperman