Youthbuild: One home just finished, another getting started

At the Youthbuild job site north of the elementary school in Perham on Monday, a group of teenagers from Perham High School and the Alternative Learning Center were pulling rafters together on their second house of the season.

Members of the Perham Youthbuild - a collaboration between the Alternative Learning Center, Perham High School, Perham Housing Redevelopment Authority and the state's Concentrated Employment Program - put rafters on a home they're building north of the elementary school. Connie Vandermay/FOCUS

At the Youthbuild job site north of the elementary school in Perham on Monday, a group of teenagers from Perham High School and the Alternative Learning Center were pulling rafters together on their second house of the season.

By the third rafter, the team of 16 had a decent system in place, and the rafters started going up fast.

Brady Erickson, a senior, was chosen as foreman of the Youthbuild class this year. He was quick to direct his classmates, hollering out names and orders. His classmates were just as quick to yell a sarcastic, "Yes, boss."

Erickson said it can be a little stressful trying to lead a group of people with such varied levels of carpentry knowledge: "Some have gone through architect classes and wiring classes," which help, but others haven't.

Teacher Jon Skow watched the progress, offering tips and answering questions.


Skow said, "For the last five or six years, I have told each group that they are the best I have ever had, and sincerely mean that. I cannot explain it, but kids just keep getting better."

One of eight such programs in Minnesota, Youthbuild is a three-part program, ALC director Fred Sailer explained in a phone interview.

The first part is an agreement with Perham Housing Redevelopment Authority, Sailer said. They back the loan for materials, and then sell the homes to families that qualify.

The second leg is the cooperative work between ALC and traditional high school students.

The final part of Youthbuild is rural Minnesota's Concentrated Employment Program. This program works with ALC students who qualify, paying them minimum wage. It also pays the wage of the instructor.

"The kids work together in teams to build houses, learning on site," Sailer said. "Kids can get practical experience while earning credit and putting some jingle in their pockets."

"Financially, the school has no risk," he added. However, the school gets "a great upside in terms of the educational piece to kids that have an interest in this area."

Right next door to the framed house, the 'green house,' as the kids called it, was recently completed. The two bedroom, two bath home with green colored 'smart siding' and 'smart windows' was built through Youthbuild over the last two years.


In a tour of the completed house, Reagan Vaughan, the lone female of the current Youth Build team, said she helped install the counter tops, hang cabinets, mud and tape, paint and put up trim. They subcontracted out the plumbing, wiring and flooring.

Vaughan said that up until today, the crew was split up. Some were framing next door while others were doing trim and interior work in the 'green house.' But now that the 'green house' is done, the entire crew is together at the other house.

Typically, having two houses going at once allows the class to work inside on days the weather doesn't cooperate.

At the framed house on Monday, the crew was hoping to have most of the rafters up by day's end, with the ultimate goal of having all the outside work on the house done before it gets cold next fall. The kids work three and one-half hours a day, Monday through Thursday, during the school year.

When Youthbuild began 18 years ago, the group had nine months to complete a house, which meant at the end of the school year they had to subcontract out the unfinished work. Now the program allows for 24 months for house completion.

Some of the kids who have been in Youthbuild for two years saw the 'green house' through its whole building process - from the bids to the blueprint to construction.

Future plans are to build three houses north of Heart of the Lakes Elementary School and two houses across the road to the east, all of which is property owned by the school.

The program offers outside benefits, too, such as OSHA training certificates and college credits through Minnesota State.


Three of the kids even got summer jobs with local construction companies.

The high school student numbers have climbed steadily over the years, with 27 interested in joining next year's Youthbuild - although some will have to be turned away.

Over the years, the program has built eight or nine Habitat houses, two duplexes and 23 homes in Perham.

Local groups and businesses have provided funds and materials to Youthbuild in exchange for labor - projects like shingling the Grandview Heights Ballroom at Pioneer Grounds.

Youthbuild has also worked on smaller projects like storage sheds, picnic shelters, park benches and fish houses for fundraisers.

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