Freedom for Youth Ministries to Help Young People Succeed in the Trades with $50,000 Opus Foundation Grant

Des Moines-based Freedom for Youth Ministries (FFYM) is supporting the next generation of construction workers. And the Opus Foundation is supporting their work.

Since 2017, Opus Foundation awarded $233,680 to FFYM to support Freedom Construction Services, a social enterprise providing construction training and an apprenticeship program. That includes a recent grant of $50,000 for expanding the program and training more students.

Freedom Construction Services has teachers and mentors skilled in the trades who teach youth ages 18 to 24 carpentry, flooring, plumbing, electrical, HVAC and welding. Students – many of whom are first or second-generation immigrants and people of color – receive wraparound services such as ESL classes, remedial educational support, meals, transportation and housing assistance to resolve barriers to employment.

Building Something Great

The first class began in 2020 after the pandemic took hold in the United States, which limited activities. Despite the challenges, eight students graduated in 2021 and six students will graduate this month.

“It's been a process to build this program," said Mark Nelson, Executive Director of FFYM. “We worked hard to get it right and were then challenged by pandemic protocols. We made it through and now the Foundation is helping us advance."

Specifically, the Opus Foundation grant is supporting the paid, pre-apprenticeship program. This is phase one of the three phase program which teaches basic trades, employment and life skills within the walls of a fully operational construction company.

Students receive three months of paid, in-house learning as part of the one-year program, followed by nine months of paid training in the field. FFYM is currently screening applicants for three classes it will start in 2023. They plan to scale-up its enrollment in 2024 with quarterly classes comprised of more students.

“If we graduate 20 students a year, that's a pretty significant number of young people entering the workforce in Iowa," Mark said.

Meeting an Industry Need

For many years, the Opus Foundation has supported workforce development programs that address the shortage of skilled construction tradespeople. 

“Opus is helping us get more young people engaged in the trades," Mark said. “A huge percentage of tradespeople will be retiring in the next decade – we need to replace them. FFYM and Opus are like-minded in our efforts to promote and build up the trades."

Freedom Construction Services is doing this by teaching students tangible trades as well as intangible job skills.

“In addition to teaching hands-on construction skills, we're producing students who show up to work on time with the right mind-set – they want to do their best every day," Mark said.

Students in the Freedom Construction Services program graduate debt-free and receive job placement services. Some have starting salaries that are higher than some college graduates.

One proof point of the program's success is the first group of graduates are all still working the jobs they were placed in a year ago.

“Our graduates get great jobs that interest them," Mark said. “These are jobs they can get excited about. Success for us is seeing them continue in long-term employment."

“I don't know a lot of companies that are as generous as Opus. Their support has been critical to the launch and initial success of our program. They first supported our efforts to remodel our building, so we had a space to do the training. Now they are funding the actual training program. We are so appreciative of their support."


The Opus Foundation®​ is the corporate foundation for The Opus Group and is building community for a better tomorrow by supporting projects and programs that make our communities better places to live, work and raise families. The Foundation is committed to improving conditions that disproportionately affect historically underinvested individuals and communities by resourcing key focus areas of early childhood education, youth development, workforce development, community revitalization and pressing/emerging needs. Read more about the Foundation's work. The Opus Foundation is a separate entity from The Opus Group and is led by its own Board of Directors.