On the verge of using up the final $500 of a $400,000 grant the program received in 2003 from the United States Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), and with no more HUD funding in sight, the local Youthbuild solicited donations from the public through supporters and newspaper articles.
Youthbuild is a not-for-profit learning program that provides construction training, education, and life skills to at-risk young adults between the ages of 16 and 24. Participants in the program build houses for low- to moderate-income families and work on various other projects in Rock Island while attending classes at the Black Hawk College Technology Center or Thurgood Marshall Learning Center. (See "The House That Kids Built," River Cities' Reader Issue 527, May 4-10, 2005.)
Recently appointed part-time Youthbuild Program Director Karen Beiser said Youthbuild has received grants from numerous organizations this summer, including $40,000 from the Doris & Victor Day Foundation, $12,500 from the Rauch Family Foundation, and $10,000 from the Rock Island Community Foundation.
The $90,000 that organizations and individuals have pledged to the program over the past few months represent roughly 60 percent of Youthbuild's annual budget, used to pay the students and the staff working on the houses.
Linda Golden, Youthbuild academic and vocational instructor at Thurgood Marshall Learning Center, said the money would be enough to fund the program through at least Thurgood Marshall's next semester, which ends in December. "I'm not saying the program's going to end in December," she said. "I just know that right now we have enough money to keep it going until then."
The rest of funding for the program comes in the form of in-kind contributions, such as the use of classroom facilities, faculty, staff, and equipment from the Rock Island public schools and Black Hawk College.
Beiser took over her position in early August after full-time Director John Vogt left to pursue a job in North Carolina, where he will be restoring two local theatres and creating a performing-arts center.
"It was getting to the point where you couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel," Vogt said about Youthbuild's financial struggles. "I stuck it out as long as I could, and as much as I really enjoyed working with the kids, I couldn't live day to day without knowing if the program was going to exist or not."
Beiser said she joined Youthbuild on a part-time basis to keep the momentum and set it up for a future, full-time director. She has prior experience working with at-risk kids and writing grants, and has two part-time teaching positions?one at St. Ambrose University and the other at Muscatine Community College.
According to Golden, the program never missed a beat after Beiser became director. "John had decided to leave and I saw that she [Beiser] had the qualifications we needed to fill the spot," Golden said with a big smile. "I thought it was a long shot, but she took the job and it all seemed to just fall in place in a short amount of time."
Since the program's initial HUD grant, Youthbuild has come away empty-handed twice when leaders thought they might receive additional funding from the federal agency.
In 2004, HUD denied an application for a $600,000 grant. In May 2005, the Rock Island Housing Authority applied for a $20-million federal HOPE VI grant for housing projects in Rock Island, and Youthbuild was slated to get a portion of that money. But the grant application was rejected.
Beiser said she submitted another application for a $700,000 Youthbuild grant from HUD last month, which Vogt said is the maximum amount of funding a Youthbuild program is eligible to apply for each year. "It can be any amount up to $700,000, but there's no guarantee that you'll get anything at all," Vogt said.
Nevertheless, Beiser remains optimistic that HUD will approve the grant. "When you ask somebody for all of this money from a place like HUD, your chances of getting it are slim to none, but when you show them such great community support, I think that increases are chances of getting help from them," she said.
Beiser said the grant would open up several new opportunities for Youthbuild. For example, she said it would pay for additional career counseling and extra tutoring on entrance exams to apprenticeship programs or colleges, and it could also allow Youthbuild to expand into Davenport and Moline, which had been a goal Vogt was pursuing before he left.
Beiser also said leaders plan to continue Youthbuild even if that HUD funding doesn't come through. "We have had such outstanding local support that I am sure we can continue, albeit with a scaled-down program that will not be able to assist as many at-risk youth as we had hoped," she said.
One of the program's goals - with or without a HUD grant - is to build one house a year over the next three years in the Longview historic area of Rock Island, on 15th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues.
So far, Youthbuild has completed one house at 716 15th Street, and Golden said the organization is on-track to finish a second house at 728 15th Street by winter. "We plan to start another house after we are finished and are already looking at three different sites to build it," she said.