LOUISVILLE, Ky. (MainStreet) -- It was a peculiar year for YouthBuild Louisville. Just as the aid program for jobless and undereducated young adults struggled to fulfill its role amid seemingly immutable unemployment figures, SCORE named it the Outstanding Nonprofit Organization.

The category was added this year, making YouthBuild Louisville the first recipient.

The nonprofit program is part of a national organization. More than 273 programs have been created in cities across the U.S. under

YouthBuild USA

. The first program was started in 1978 in Harlem, N.Y.

YouthBuild Louisville

Between 75% and 90% of YouthBuild's participants, all age 16 to 24, are high school dropouts; 61% are parents; and at least half have experience with the court system, according to Lynn Rippy, executive director of YouthBuild Louisville.

The program provides five primary components: education, job training programs, emphasis on the role of community service, social service and, finally, career development. Participants split their time between the classroom in which they get their GEDs and a job site, where they contribute to building affordable housing for low-income families and the homeless.

"Even though we are a nonprofit, we are a small business," Rippy says. "The primary way that we're like a small business is we have to make sure we bring enough money in to pay our bills. We run our program efficiently."

A primary goal for YouthBuild Louisville is learning how to become less dependent on federal funds, which are not guaranteed. One way is by building out a "product line" of gardening supplies and sheds. The organization also hopes to have a fully functioning restaurant one day from its vegetable garden.

"Our goal is to

have at least 50% of earned income

as part of the annual budget," she says. "We're at 36%, so we're heading that way. That was a large part of the

SCORE application -- really explaining how we've gone from a nonprofit that really works from donations and grants and really looks more at entrepreneuralism in the way we develop programs and the way the program conceives the operations."

How did you get into this line of work?


I worked for 35 years in these services. I worked first in the Park Department and realized we weren't doing enough for young people and after that opened the Office of Youth Services for the mayor's office. I developed a leadership program there. I really wanted to make sure that I could see the fruits of our work every day and realized that the program where I could see the

most benefit would be a program where you work with one student at a time.

What does this award mean to you?


We are absolutely thrilled and completely honored that they would consider us worthy of this award. I feel like for the folks I work with and young people we serve it's incredibly important in this country's history that there is a program that really serves the young people who are struggling the most. There are a young people in this country who are truly struggling, and we've got to have programs that move them forward in life. We see it as an opportunity to shine a light on the needs of young people.

What's the biggest business lesson you've learned?


I think probably being able to pull as many as resources together as possible that we can't do alone -- it takes the entire community, in partnership with high-quality services, to support needy kids. It's realizing we need other folks and resources in the community.

What has been the toughest part of the past year?


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Job placement

for participants has definitely been the toughest part of the last year. There is just an incredible sense of hopelessness, and for young kids it struck them even harder.

What are the overall challenges of running a nonprofit organization?


The overwhelming challenge is to find enough resources to support the needs of the young people. They're coming to us without formal education, unprepared for college, without work experience and many of them, frankly, are homeless. They come to us with children and without day care to support going to school every day. We expect them to be with us 33 hours a week. In order to do that they have to have a really strong child care set-up.

What are the plans for the organization?


We are expanding our business over the next five years to include a full-time environmental education and pre-medical program. That way we can connect more young people with the available jobs in our community

We're really trying to market the needs in Louisville and respond to that.


Pat Walker, of East Cooper Meals on Wheels, winner of

SCORE's 2011 award for Outstanding Socially Progressive Small Business

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

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