Native Village
Youth and Education news
September 2010 Volume 2

Blackfeet program for at - risk young adults restoring homes and dreams
Condensed by Native Village

Montana: Trish Makes Cold Weather was a high-school dropout. Then the 20-year-old Blackfeet woman stepped into the Blackfeet Manpower's Youth Build program. She learned that her hands could help renovate houses and erect wind turbines. Trish saw her potential and began renovating herself through the program.

"I didn't know nothing (a year ago). I didn't know how to write nothing and punctuate," Makes Cold Weather said. "I was in basic math."

Makes Cold Weather is one of 31 at-risk young adults on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation who worked in the year-long YouthBuild pilot program.

Blackfeet Manpower One Stop Center is a job service organization in Browning. It's business is to develop local work force potential. Construction is a major focus of YouthBuild because it is a local industry with available jobs.

Manpower's funding comes from U.S. Department of Labor grants. It targets people ages 18 - 24 who dropped out of high school and must still earn their GEDs.

"It's kind of exciting," Trish said about YouthBuild. "I'm learning something every day."

Director George Kipp says at-risk youth need a way to develop work skills while getting an education. Students accepted into YouthBuild must spend 40% of their time in the classroom, 50% doing construction, and 10% to fulfill individual needs.

"They have a lot of issues we're trying to address," Kipp said.

Before applicants are accepted, they attend a rigorous physical - endurance boot camp with members of the Chief Mountain Hotshots, an elite wildfire-fighting crew.

YouthBuild has also partnered with Blackfeet Community College. Instructors help students with basic math, reading and writing skills to prepare them for the GED tests.

In addition to learning construction skills, ManPower wanted students to learn about alternative energy sources. Instructors from Montana State University Tech Department traveled to Browning and shared their first hand knowledge about alternative energy and the newest technology.

YouthBuild students erected a wind turbine near Heart Butte, and soon they soon will install solar panels.

Manpower also worked with Blackfeet Housing Authority so students could renovate three reservation houses. The homeowners or renters who applied for help had to be elderly, disabled, or a veteran.

"In one year they (students) will have earned their GED and have their foot in the door (for college), said Robin England from Blackfeet Housing. "It's a fantastic opportunity for these kids.  This can maybe start something in Indian Country."

Frankie Kipp, a YouthBuild caseworker, said it's exciting to watch students transform old, shabby houses while also transforming themselves. "They take a lot of pride in what they are doing," he said. "The change in them is their work ethics."

As for Trish Makes Cold Weather, she is out of basic math and taking Algebra II.  She now writes high school senior-level essays on top of all the construction skills she learned.

"I'm really happy," she said. "Math is my favorite subject."

Her hope is to head to college for a counseling degree to help kids much like herself.

Meanwhile, when she drives past a project home, Makes Cold Weather makes sure people know her hands built a better life.  "I tell people, 'there's that house I work at,'" she said.


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