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Program for at-risk students earns national awards

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
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Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

BEMIDJI - A local program for non-traditional students recently won two national honors.

It's an unusual feat for a small YouthBuild USA program, said Tina Sweatt, the Bi-CAP YouthBuild director.

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She said the 2011 awards - for highest completion rate and highest certification rate - are a special acknowledgement to the hard work of her staff and students.

The local YouthBuild is part of Bi-CAP - Bi-County Community Action Programs - whose goal, according to its website, is to eliminate poverty in Beltrami and Cass counties.

"Every program is different," Sweatt said. "There are 273 affiliated programs in 46 states and most are urban, so for a small, rural program to exceed the standards set for us is amazing."

Ross Millar, Bi-CAP YouthBuild's learner manager, said he was surprised when he found out about the honors.

"It shows that we're a quality program and gives us national exposure," Millar said. "It gives the kids something to work towards."

YouthBuild USA was nationally incorporated in 1988 and has served more than 110,000 students nationwide. The Bi-CAP YouthBuild, which serves Beltrami and Cass counties, accepts 23 students each year.

The program is for students ages 16-24 who have left the traditional school system and have a criminal record, have faced chronic homelessness, grew up in foster care or have some other type of extenuating circumstance, Sweatt said.

Through the program, students work toward a diploma or GED, gain some sort of certification to become more marketable in the work force and learn to build houses for low-income families, Sweatt said.

"This should be a source of pride for the community," Sweatt said. "We are the oldest YouthBuild in the country, and the young people we have turned out are now contributing to Bemidji."

Millar said the program is helping students find what they're best at.

"We're taking at-risk kids and providing them with the skills they need to live a middle-class life," Millar said. "We're hoping to give them a step up."

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