It will be a chance for young people to build and learn at the same time.

Through a U.S. Department of Labor grant announced recently, Washtenaw Community College will receive more than $899,000 to fund a three-year program aimed at teaching building construction skills to disadvantaged youth in Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township while they work toward earning a GED.

The announcement of the grant came through the offices of U.S. Senators Gary C. Peters and Debbie Stabanow and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell.

YouthBuild is a nationwide program that serves 16 to 24-year-olds who have dropped out of high school and are at risk of failing to reach key educational milestones. WCC was one of only four colleges in Michigan awarded a portion of the grant and one of 22 nationwide new recipients.

The grant will address poverty and unemployment in both Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. Schools there have some of the lowest graduation rates in the state while poverty and unemployment rates for these youth are among the highest.

The YouthBuild program will combine two well-established and successful programs at the college. They are the Adult Transitions (AT) GED Plus program and the Construction Technology program.

Here’s how the grant program will work:

WCC YouthBuild will serve 50 participants during the three-year grant period;

Enrollment for the first year will be 25 participants;

Each group of students will construct a house to address the need for affordable housing in Ypsilanti Township. Students will also spend time remodeling an existing home in the city of Ypsilanti to expose them to skills needed and challenges encountered with a remodeling project.

Beside the on-the-job learning, students are expected to obtain their GED, build their academic skills using reading, writing and math curricula aligned with the construction industry and take college-level courses toward an associate degree. “YouthBuild is a vitally important component in our community’s effort to address unemployment and poverty among our youth,” said WCC President Dr. Rose B. Bellanca. “This hands-on instruction, along with traditional learning experiences, will both open doors for the students and provide critical housing needs for low-income residents. The college is proud to be a part of this effort.”

Cristy Lindemann, director of the WCC Construction Technology program, sees the grant as a win-win for students and the communities. “The construction skills the students will learn will be essential to meet the needs of local employers – including construction theory and on-the-job training,” Lindemann said. “Much like the other courses we offer in the construction department, these students will be giving back to the community by working on several homes in the Ypsilanti area to revitalize them for a local family in need.

“We have been so lucky to receive support from the local municipalities as well as trade partners and associations that wrote letters of support for this grant. We couldn’t be more excited!”

The program is expected to take effect this academic year.