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Youthbuild Program Benefits Students, Community

June 29, 2022

Wearing safety glasses and work boots, with a tool belt strapped around his waist, Landen Tuma moved purposefully around the Northfield Area Learning Center’s outdoor work site, located behind the former Longfellow Elementary School. The Northfield tenth-grader was part of a team of students getting paid to learn on the job. The project at hand on that cloudy spring day? Building two raised garden containers for the ALC’s garden club.

“This is the first one like this. It took about twelve or thirteen hours to build,” Tuma said, as he applied wood filler to the screw holes of the nearly completed garden bed. “It’s a learning process. We’re learning a lot about the equipment, and how to turn angles. It turned out a lot better than we expected.”

Tuma was among the first group of students to participate in the new WDI Youthbuild program that launched last fall in Rice County. During the 2021-22 school year, about a dozen students from Northfield and Faribault participated in a variety of building and construction-related projects.

The program is a partnership with Workforce Development Inc., a nonprofit agency that serves job seekers and employers throughout southeastern Minnesota.

WDI Youthbuild Instructor Daryl Kiesow was hired last fall to supervise the construction activities. The goal is to have eight to 10 students per class at both the Northfield and Faribault locations, keeping it small for safety reasons. Participants must be ages 16 to 24 to participate, but they don’t need to be ALC students.

Kiesow said some students who enrolled last fall ended up dropping the class after discovering how hands-on it truly was.

“One of the things they don’t realize is that it’s a full day of actual work. It’s not necessarily an easy class, because a lot of construction activities are labor-intensive,” he said.

At the Northfield ALC, students have a flex day on Wednesdays; at the Faribault ALC, the flex day is on Fridays. Students spent those days working on projects, which in 2021-22 included building birdhouses, making extensive repairs to a mobile home in Faribault, and helping with the construction of a single family home and a quad home in Northfield built by Rice County Habitat for Humanity.

Kiesow said the partnership with Habitat was a highlight for many of the students, in part because they got to participate in so many aspects of the construction, including putting up sheetrock.

Jodi Beach, Rice County Habitat’s community engagement coordinator, said she enjoyed watching the students interact with the Habitat site supervisors, who tend to be age 50 and older.

“It benefits everyone to work intergenerationally and learn from each other, and bringing in that youth energy to your build site is always a fun element,” she said.

As a former educator, Beach also enjoyed watching the students use their math, communication and problem-solving skills, which she said will benefit them whether or not they end up going into construction.

“The skills they are learning in Youthbuild can be foundations for anything,” she said.

For more information about the Youthbuild program and how to enroll, email Kiesow at

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