At 23 years old, Juan is finishing his GED and planning for college. He spends much of his remaining time learning construction skills and building low-income housing units.
But life wasn’t always this way.
His future used to be blighted similarly to the neighborhoods he’s now helping rebuild. Surrounded by gangs and a part of one by age 12, he felt trapped in a cycle that’s all too familiar in his neighborhood. Years past and slowly something started to click for Juan.
“As the years went by I started to realize that my life was going in circles. It was just the same thing over and over. I needed a change; well actually I needed to change.”
Thanks to some self-realization and encouragement from his mom, that change completely flipped his life around. Juan decided to join the YouthBuild program as part of the Mile High Youth Corps. Rooted in Denver, it helps provide an education and job training for young adults like Juan, out-of-school and unemployed individuals between the ages of 17-20.
Thriving in the YouthBuild Program
YouthBuild and the Mile High Youth Corps provide an often needed second chance to young people that may not have other outlets. Juan proves people can thrive when given that chance and become productive in a role that sparks a passion previously unknown.
“After I get my GED certificate, I will go to college with my AmeriCorps scholarship for construction management. I love everything about construction, and I found something that I am good at. I’ve worked really hard to be here, and I am thankful for being able to change my life and make something out of nothing.”
Juan is just one of thousands of success stories generated through the program. Combining diplomas with true life skills, the long list of graduates is similar in size to the list of individuals waiting to get into the program. The demand has been met by Mile High Youth Corps and Denver Public Schools, who helped create the RiseUp Community School to provide high school courses to those on the wait list. Those classes take place in MHYC’s headquarters building and have expanded its influence even further.
Getting Involved in Denver
Since its formation in 2003, YouthBuild has constructed or rehabilitated nearly 1,000 homes in and around Denver. Over 150 GEDs and high school diplomas have been earned by the young adults working on these affordable, green housing units. Yet, the numbers only tell part of the story. The people positively impacted by the program, both from within and as a result of their work, are growing at an almost immeasurable rate.
The work isn’t going unnoticed. Partnerships, like with U.S. Department of Labor and Community College of Denver, have provided resources and opportunities for members. Appearances, like in the Martin Luther King Parade, allowed some young adults to meet Gov. Hickenlooper and Sen. Bennet.
YouthBuild members are currently helping the Denver Housing Authority with construction of the Mariposa redevelopment site, a neighborhood of LEED-certified townhomes and apartments for low-income residents. They are also completing workshops, such as Customer Service 101 at a local Starbucks, on top on their normal workload.
You can keep up with all their recent activity on their Mile High Youth Corps Facebook.
YouthBuild gives its members a second opportunity to earn a high school diploma while learning construction skills on a large scale sites in the Denver area. Youth also participate in career and college readiness training, leadership development, service learning and civic engagement activities, life skills and healthy lifestyles classes. Career and post-secondary education placement assistance take place at the completion of a term, as well as one year of follow-up services.