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New federal grant set to benefit youth in Benton Harbor

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Teens and young adults in Benton Harbor are set to benefit from a new grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Nearly $1 million was awarded to the YouthBuild program in Benton Harbor. The program helps at-risk youth who weren’t able to find success in traditional schooling.

YouthBuild is a resource that not only provides education, teaches professional working skills and guides them toward employment -- it also builds relationships that can help them reach their goals.

The building along Main Street in Benton Harbor is where YouthBuild students and staff gather every day. It’s a large workspace where students can build with wood and other materials. They are in the process of building a tool shed, dust collector room and bathroom. A hang-out space will be renovated.

The space was abandoned as of September, but now it’s a new technical training facility. Students can also can enjoy each other’s company with a little basketball.

This new near-$1 million grant will go toward facilities, staff, training and toward stipends to help students get out of the position that they’re in.

YouthBuild Director, Caleb Weeks said, "If a student needs help getting their driver’s license, if they need help getting their education done, if they need help buying tools or equipment for a job that we hand them off to — things like that.”

Student Shantel Thompson says the program has helped her get on the right path.

“My goal is I want to be a realtor. I want to sell houses so we demo houses so I really like it so it’s just helping me take baby steps to achieve my goals," said Thompson. "They are not only helping you just build, there helping you with life career, life goals. If something was wrong, they are there. If you need something they are just a call away.”

Student Jasmine Bibbs says she’s excited to use the skills she’s learned. She’s now OSHA, PAC and CPR Certified.

She said her YouthBuild mentors have been there to help in the workshop and in life.

“They always look out for you even if you are down, they will be like 'what’s wrong.' They will try to see what’s wrong with you. It’s just special," said Bibbs.

Weeks said the program is not just about creating construction workers, but the mentoring and relationships formed.

“So when they come to us it’s not just about giving them skills or giving them certification, but it’s about helping shape them and guide them along for whatever is next," said Weeks.

Youth Build can connect students with a lot of different apprenticeships and opportunities including being a certified nursing assistant.

Students can learn more about the program at Kinexus.org.

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