The YouthBuild program at Montana State University-Northern has drawn a lot of national attention in the past year or two. On Monday afternoon that attention came to Havre.
U. S. Sen. Jon Tester and Dorothy Stoneman, the founder and director of YouthBuild USA, visited Montana State University-Northern’s campus Monday to take a look at how it is done here and visit with the broad collection of collaborators that make the program possible on the Hi-Line.
The program helps at-risk youths, between the ages of 16 and 24 years old, with few other prospects, get job training, specifically in construction, while they also earn a GED diploma. It helps between one and two dozen students a semester get what they need to help them beyond the program as well, as they go into post-secondary education or the job market.
After an informal chat over lunch between the tables, where Tester and Stoneman were joined by community leaders and YouthBuild students, a panel answered questions about the impact of the program on Havre and the Hi-Line from Greg Kegel, dean of Northern’s College of Technical Sciences, and the rest of the audience.
The panel included YouthBuild student Jesse Denny, Hill County Commissioner Kathy Bessette, Rocky Boy business committee chair Bruce Sunchild Sr., and Northern’s Mulicultural Center Director Stacy Gonsalez.
When asked about the impact of the program, Denny told people about how, before YouthBuild, he was another local youth with a criminal record, but no high school degree. He said he appreciated not only the second chance the program has given him, but the help it has provided him in finding work experience to help him even after he graduates.
Bessette said that the program is great for helping with one of the concerns she heard most from the Hill County needs assessment meetings held this summer, the lack of housing in Hill County. The program can solve problems for both people who need somewhere to live and those who that receive the education, job training and second chance that YouthBuild offers.
“I think this all works together, ” Bessette said. “It’s all going in the same direction. ”
Sunchild said the same thing about the housing situation on Rocky Boy Indian Reservation.
“The floods have really devastated a lot of houses on Rocky Boy, ” Sunchild said. “Having them two years in a row is really devastating. ”
He told the meeting attendees about the help on that front that YouthBuild has already provided and then presented a check for $20,000 to Bob Anderson, director for Northern’s YouthBuild, to keep it up.
Aside from the products of the program, Sunchild also lauded the program for fostering self-esteem and a diligent work ethic in its graduates.
After the panel discussion, Stoneman praised Northern’s YouthBuild program, one of two tied with a four-year college she said, for the way the entire community cooperated to make it happen, from the school district and the court system to the tribal governments and North Central Montana Transit.
When all these come together and provide hope not only for the students involved but for the people around them as well, including some of the students’ infant children, the impact goes beyond expectation.
“We can’t measure the impact of YouthBuild and all the ripples it causes, ” Stoneman said.
Tester also spoke highly of the program for helping these youths, getting the economy on track and embodying the spirit of community collaboration that is central to Montana.
“We need to make sure that programs like this, which take some dollars up front, but I think, long term, save some money and also create an economy by training people so they can get good jobs and contribute to the economy, ” Tester said.
“It’s really folks working together to improve the community. It’s the way north-central Montana is. It’s the way all Montana is. The state was built by people working together. This is a prime example. ”