YouthBuild McLean County


Program Summary: Affiliated with YouthBuild USA and AmeriCorps, YouthBuild McLean County serves Bloomington and Normal, Illinois and the surrounding rural areas. In YouthBuild programs, unemployed and undereducated young people ages 16 to 24 work toward their GED or high school diploma while learning construction skills by building affordable housing for homeless and low-income people. The McLean County program’s mission is “to offer young people a once in a lifetime opportunity to build their futures and their communities through education, leadership development, job training, and the rehabilitation and production of affordable housing, while keeping a profound respect for and a commitment to real partnership with youth.” Strong emphasis is placed on leadership development, community service, and the creation of a positive mini-community of adults and youth committed to success. Since 1994, participants have built or renovated over 17 affordable residences for people in McLean County.

Program Structure/Design: YouthBuild McLean County is a 35-hour per week, year-long program in which program participants spend half their time building and rehabilitating houses for low-income residents and the other half in the classroom working on their high school diploma, GED, or academic preparation for postsecondary training.

Participants also engage in various forms of service learning: YouthBuild McLean County is an AmeriCorps site and all participants are members. Each member has a goal of completing 900 hours of service by graduation.

YouthBuild is part of a larger social movement dedicated to redefining the perception of youth in America. There are 200 operating YouthBuild programs nationwide, 13 in the state of Illinois. They serve 7,000 young people across the nation each year.

Participants must be between the ages of 16 and 24 and have not completed high school or the GED. Three-quarters of participants are high school dropouts. All are at risk in academic or vocational areas and over half have cognitive, emotional, or learning disabilities. Few of the participants have significant physical disabilities because of the perception that such conditions may interfere with people’s ability to work successfully in construction; however, YouthBuild McLean County is prepared to provide accommodations to qualified individuals.

States of Operation: IL

Youth Targeted:
• Out of school youth
• In-school youth
• Runaway and homeless youth
• Youth with disabilities
• Pregnant or parenting youth
• Youth offenders
• Youth in foster care or aging out
• Rural youth
• Urban youth
• Minority youth

ODEP Funded: No
Profile Year: 2007


School-Based Preparatory Experiences:
YouthBuild’s academic program is designed to prepare students for the high school equivalency exam, a high school diploma, postsecondary technical training, or college. Geared to provide a meaningful and useful education, the curriculum integrates academic skills — reading, writing, and mathematics — with life skills, social studies, leadership opportunities, and vocational training.

YouthBuild’s cooperation with the GED/Adult Literacy Program, Regional Office of Education, Heartland Community College, and speakers within the community helps the young people achieve educational success. Participants with cognitive and learning disabilities get educational assistance that focuses on individual needs from specialists in literacy and numeracy. On average, 75% of participants complete diploma requirements or pass the GED each year.

Career Preparation and Work-Based Learning Experiences: YouthBuild McLean County prepares young people for the working world in diverse ways. Weekly classes build sound work habits and decision-making skills and teach trainees how to manage time effectively, develop career plans, and handle job interviews. As part of AmeriCorps, the initiative is placing greater emphasis on service learning. Activities include participating weekly in the America Reads Program at a local low-income daycare center; building and renovating structures at children’s camps; serving the elderly and people with disabilities; and providing environmental services around the community, including recycling and water quality monitoring. In addition to preparing participants for work, these program activities assist them in overcoming negative work habits and attitudes, and help them to develop empathy and understanding.

Participants spend half of their time building and rehabilitating houses for low-income residents. Through the work-based experiences, participants apply what they have learned in the classroom. At the work site, young people receive close supervision and training in construction skills from qualified instructors who are often union journeymen. The skills they acquire qualify them for apprenticeships or entry-level positions in building maintenance, carpentry, demolition, masonry, painting, and other construction-related jobs. Paid internships offer higher levels of training.

Youth Development and Leadership: YouthBuild McLean County has a commitment to real partnership with youth and an emphasis on leadership development. This includes the initiative’s structure of shared leadership with participants. Participants wield real and legitimate power through the Youth Policy Committee, composed of seven youth elected by their peers. All decisions in the program are made through a democratic process directly involving the policy committee and the program director. Those decisions include the hiring and firing of staff and trainees, improving program management, implementing program design changes, reviewing the budget, intervening on personnel problems, providing input in staff evaluations, addressing disciplinary issues with other trainees, and planning outings and events.

YouthBuild McLean County also uses a proactive approach to prevent problems and to develop the strengths of youth based on an “asset building” design. The initiative uses case management to help youth receive assistance in such areas as health issues, parenting classes, probation and court-related issues, housing concerns, and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). Youth are also offered the opportunity to travel to various training programs, to represent the program at different functions, and to participate in a 10-day class trip. The youth raise part of the funds for their trip through garage sales and other small fundraisers.

Connecting Activities: The program provides case management services to help participants access community resources and to teach participants to be self-sufficient. Program staff members help young people recognize patterns in their lives that have held them back, and encourage them to take responsibility for making things go right for themselves, their families, their program, and their community.

The program has designed two systems that engage youth in structured development: 1) individual development plans that plot and track individual progress, and 2) a so-called “level system” that includes a set of responsibilities, benefits, and requirements needed for each youth to progress through five levels.

YouthBuild’s Graduates Program provides help to youth in finding jobs, continuing education opportunities, gaining access to the Internet and computers, and participating in recreational activities and community service projects. The initiative also provides support for as long as an individual needs assistance. That support includes help with financial aid applications, self-esteem building, referrals, money management, personal counseling, study skills, educational tutoring, and conflict resolution.

Graduates may also attend retreats, serve on the board of directors, and serve on a steering committee to help shape the program. Graduates also receive support with placement and postsecondary opportunities.

All participants, including youth with disabilities, are supported through individualized education planning and, when appropriate, mental and chemical health assistance. Most participants receive Medicaid, and the program has strong relationships with two local medical service providers. Some participants receive support through vocational rehabilitation services and the local workforce center.


Staff Development: YouthBuild’s administration is very aware of the need for strong staff development, and provides training in leadership development, drug awareness, the power of young people, and the organization as a whole. Supervisors and youth conduct formal and informal evaluations of job performance during the year. The program has taken specific steps to alleviate staff burnout. These steps include paid health club membership, staff outings, winter and spring breaks, compensatory time given for overtime, cross-over job training, and opportunities for external training that includes conferences and an annual staff retreat.



The following chart illustrates the audited average statistics for YouthBuild McLean County from 1998 to 2002.

Outcome Description Results
Program data
Attendance 92%
Graduated from YouthBuild 62%
Received high school diploma or GED 75%
Placed in job or school 88%
Employment data (Job placement by category)
Skilled trades and skilled labor 54%
Social services 22%
Customer service 21%
Information technology 5%
Average wage after program $11.80
Affordable housing built or rehabilitated between 1994 and 2002 15


Third-Party Documentation:
Youth Build was originally selected as a 1997 PEPNet (Promising & Effective Practices Network) Award sites by the National Youth Employment Coalition and the US Department of Labor, and received a renewal award in 2001.

Organization Name: YouthBuild McLean County
Program Name: YouthBuild McLean County
Street Address: 1111 West Market St.
City: Bloomington
State: IL

Contact Person: Suzanne Fitzgerald
Contact E-mail: