Federal grant to fund tribes’ training

Great Falls Tribune

by Kim Skornogoski

A $1.4 million federal grant is launching programs on the Blackfeet and Rocky Boy’s Indian reservations that will train at-risk young adults on how to build homes that will help alleviate drastic housing shortages on both reservations.

The YouthBuild program targets 16- to 24-year-olds who are at risk of dropping out of school or have already dropped out. Students will split their time between the classroom, where they’ll earn their General Education Development diploma or college credits, and the construction site.

“This is huge news,” said Greg Kegel, dean of the College of Technical Sciences at Montana State University-Northern in Havre. “This is really a big deal for us.”

His department, which already has apprenticeship training programs for carpentry, plumbing and electricians, will oversee the grant for the Rocky Boy’s Reservation.

U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester announced the Department of Labor grant Friday. The money funds the first year of the two-year program. A matching grant should be announced as part of the 2010 budget that is set to clear Congress in July, the Montana Democrats said in a news release. With the $698,125 grant, the Blackfeet Tribe’s Manpower program will enroll 30 youth in the Southern Pikanii Lodge Builders Project during the first year, and an equal number in the second.

George Kipp, Manpower director, said students in the project will learn a trade that will help them get jobs while taking parenting, financial literacy and computer classes. The program also helps pay for childcare.

With the Manpower program serving 900 families a month, Kipp said he should have no trouble
finding young adults to fill the 30 slots within 45 days.

“(Program graduates) can start their own business or join a construction company,” he said. “They’ll have options.”

Just as importantly, the students will build badly needed houses. Kipp said the wait for houses on the Blackfeet Reservation is often more than two years.

On the Rocky Boy’s Reservation, MSU-Northern will get $687,500 to pay for personnel and help cover tuition for the program’s first year. In addition to building techniques, the 40 students who will be enrolled each year will learn about green technology as they build energy-efficient modular homes. Those houses will be moved to the reservation at the end of the school year.

Ideally, Kegel would like to get the program up and going in time for the fall semester.

“With the economy the way it is, employers are looking for people who already have technical training,” he said.