Michael Donnelly had a difficult life. He bounced around the foster care system, was a teenage father and a high school dropout, joined a gang, and had a felony conviction. His life changed the day he came across a flyer for a program called YouthBuild in McLean County, Illinois, and decided to sign up.
YouthBuild is a government program, authorized in 1992, that works through private nonprofit groups. It is managed by the U.S. Department of Labor, which makes grants on a competitive basis directly to local community-based nonprofit or public entities, like YouthBuild McLean County. The recipients must raise matching funds, at least a 25 percent local or private match. The Labor Department also partners with a national nonprofit, YouthBuild USA, Inc., to provide quality control and ensure that all the grantees stick to the program model.
YouthBuild has a holistic model for bringing low-income young adults back into the mainstream economy. After completion of the program, there is guidance on how to find postsecondary and employment placements. Many graduates earn AmeriCorps education awards for college on the basis of the hours of community service they have performed. In effect, YouthBuild and programs like it offer alternative sources of caring support and community for people who fell out of the standard ones. More than 130,000 former dropouts have participated in the over 270 urban and rural programs that have used this model.