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Building foundations: Perham does it in more ways than one

Perham High School students work on a Youth Build home for credit. Photo by Ashley Bergen.

Perham High School and Area Learning Center (ALC) students are building foundations.

Right now, 11 students are hard at work, building both the base of a house and a base for their futures.

The students, under the watch of industrial arts teacher Jon Skow, are building a 1,250-square-foot house for a low income family as part of the national Youth Build program. The kids receive both pay and academic credit for their work. They spend three hours per day, Monday through Thursday on the project.

"It's really quite an experience for the kids," ALC Director Fred Sailer said. "It's a wonderful first experience in home construction."

Students are paid minimum wage, through the Rural Minnesota Comprehensive Employment Program (CEP), Sailer explained. The local Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) provides money for building materials and will sell the house when it's completed, Sailer said.

The cooperation between the entities makes the project possible every year, Sailer said.

"When you tie in CEP and HRA, the high school and ALC, it's just a real supportive group of people," Sailer said. "Everyone is in it for the right reasons and that is to provide kids with an experience they can take into the later part of their life."

Youth Build has proven to do that very thing in Perham.

Subcontractors that have been hired for the current project are local, many of them former students, Skow said.

"That's when the program makes the most sense," Sailer added. "Kids can make a living with the practical experience they learn at the high school and the Area Learning Center."

Skow has been working with Youth Build for the past 17 years, and Perham students have helped build more than 30 houses for families, he said. The goal is to not only help students learn practical trades, but to take pride in what they're creating: a home for a young family with children.

The current house being built, located on school property at 203 9th St. SW, is a great location for such a need because it is nestled in between the three schools, Skow said. The house will also be energy efficient to keep costs down for the family that lives in the house, Skow said.

The students are doing more this year than they've done in the past, Skow said. Wayne Werner, a teacher at the high school, helped the students to pour cement footings themselves, which hadn't been done before.

"I must say, the kids did a great job," Skow said. "The kids are doing it from the bottom up. What's an education without a good foundation?"

Skow said the students take great pride in their work.

"They believe in what they're doing," he said. "Kids are good people, and some people tend to lose sight of that."