A metro-area program that fixes up houses to be sold to low-income people also helps young people get their diplomas.

Tree Trust YouthBuild helps disadvantaged students maintain a job while earning their high school diplomas or GEDs and contributing to the community by rehabbing houses in the Twin Cities. Those houses are then sold to low-income families.

"But the main thing is helping kids with barriers succeed," said Maja Numainville, the YouthBuild program coordinator.

TreeTrust YouthBuild, which began in 2006, includes 25 students who earn high school credit while gaining construction experience. The program had 60 applicants this year.

"I get to use my skills on the job site," said Ivette Pineda, an incoming senior at the Minnesota Internship Center in north Minneapolis. Pineda has rehabbed houses, raised money for the program and even built a staircase. She has learned a lot through the program, she said, and will use it throughout her life.

"When you get older … you can build your own house and don't have to ask other people to [help] since you already have the skills and the experiences," Pineda said.

The program is geared toward low-income people between the ages of 16 and 24, including those who were once in the juvenile justice system, those who are in or are aging out of foster care, those with disabilities, and others.

"A lot of kids don't grow up with tons of privilege and it's a great opportunity to give an extra boost and extra support," Numainville said.

Throughout the Twin Cities, participants are getting help with classes while working alongside Pineda and other students rehabbing homes. They are paid the minimum wage.

The program begins with Mental Toughness week, when physical activities test the students' commitment. They are then sent out to divide their time between school and the construction sites.

It's not all hammer and nails. The students also learn skills such as writing résumés, practicing for job interviews and serving as role models.

Tree Trust YouthBuild also supports participants in pursuing interests other than construction. Pineda, for example, hopes to pursue a business career, she said.

Numainville said it's good to see the students progress through the program and graduate with skills for the future.

It is also "just wonderful to see them be proud of themselves," she said.