Building homes, and a better future

Tree Trust Youthbuild program helps disadvantaged students make a difference, earn diplomas

Nayni Paung, St. Paul Harding Senior High School

A METRO-AREA PROGRAM that fixes up houses sold to low-income people also helps young people get their diplomas.

Tree Trust YouthBuild helps disadvantaged students maintain a job while earning their high school diplomas or GEDs and contributing to the community by rehabbing houses in the Twin Cities. Those houses are then sold to low-income families.

“But the main thing is helping kids with barriers succeed,” said Maja Numainville, the YouthBuild program coordinator.

TreeTrust YouthBuild, which began in 2006, has 25 students in the program who earn high school credit while gaining construction experience. The program had 60 applicants this year.

“I get to use my skills on the job site,” said Ivette Pineda, an incoming senior at the Minnesota Internship Center in north Minneapolis. Pineda has rehabbed houses, raised money for the program and even built a staircase.

Joseph Xiong, St. Paul Johnson Senior High School

Pineda has learned a lot through the program, she said, and will use what she has learned throughout her life.

“When you get older … you can build your own house and don’t have to ask other people to (help) since you already have the skills and the experiences,” she said.

The program is geared toward low-income young people between the ages of 16 and 24, including those who are in or who are aging out of foster care, those with disabilities, and more.

“A lot of kids don’t grow up with tons of privilege and it’s a great opportunity to give an extra boost and extra support,” Numainville said.

Throughout the Twin Cities, participants are getting help with classes while working alongside Pineda and other students rehab­bing homes. They are paid minimum wage.

The program begins with Mental Toughness week, where phys­ical activities test the students’ commitment. They are then sent out to divide their time between school and the construction sites.

Ivette Pineda, left, a senior involved in Tree Trust Youthbuild, and Maja Numainville, the program coordinator, pose for a photo in July.

It’s not all hammer and nails. The students also learn skills such as writing resumes, practicing for job interviews and serv­ing as role models.

Tree Trust YouthBuild also supports participants in pursuing interests other than construction. Pineda, for example, hopes to pursue a business career, she said.

It is good to see the students progress through the program and graduate with skills for the future, Numainville said.

It is also “just wonderful to see them be proud of themselves,” she said.