The Massachusetts YouthBuild Coalition has a long history with Building Better Together, an annual event that brings together YouthBuild with the Business Community. This year's event was highlighted by the featured guest, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and the inspiring stories of three YouthBuild graduates who have been able to move away from their past and on to productive futures.
Graduates of the YouthBuild programs in Lawrence, Lowell and Brockton each shared how they came to their respective YouthBuild programs and how they used the experiences in the programs to increase their life opportunities.
During her keynote speech Attorney General Maura Healey voiced her support for the YouthBuild model, saying, “We need more YouthBuild programs across the state and across the country.” Healey went on to discuss the importance of reducing barriers to economic security that disproportionately affect low-income youth in the state.
Each of these graduates let the Attorney General and the audience understand their journey from a difficult past. Attorney General Healey was so moved by their stories that she invited them to come to her office to discuss the issues that young people face, calling them "the experts."
Glenda Liz Santiago, presented an eloquent speech describing her life before YouthBuild, the amazing impact YouthBuild has had on her life and her gratitude to the staff for their genuine commitment to assist her to reach her potential and encouragement of never giving up.
Since graduating YouthBuild-Lawrence in 2011, Ms. Santiago earned an Associate's Degree in Criminal Justice and Certificate in Law Enforcement from Northern Essex Community College. Subsequently, she took and passed the Civil Service Exam and completed an internship at the Lawrence Police Department. Presently, she is a transfer student at Salem State University where she is pursuing a bachelor's degree in forensic science with a minor in biology. In the future, she wants to attend medical school and become a forensic pathologist. She is the proud mom to a beautiful son and daughter and works as a Therapeutic Mentor at Children's Friends & Families.
Rafael Santiago talked about his struggles with the law for several years as he was growing up. Then he found YouthBuild Lowell. In his own words, "I gave it my all in the program while working at Dunkin’ Donuts and co-enrolled in college in between. They saw my hard work and dedication as well as my leadership skills and decided to offer me a position as construction trainer upon graduation and I became the first ever to go from student to staff in the YouthBuild Lowell program. And because of my success, I landed a position doing restorative justice giving juveniles who committed their first crime a second chance at a clean record."
"I still hold that position as well as going to college, which I’ve already completed three semesters, and I’ve accomplished all this in just two years of being released from prison. I now live with my girlfriend of almost two years, our one year old daughter and baby boy. Everything I do from here on out is for them because they are my everything. I truly believe that I am a living, breathing, walking, talking, six foot five inch symbol of truth that with hard work and dedication anything is possible and no dream is too big."
The final graduate speaker of the night was YouthBuild Brockton graduate, Lashon Amado. Lashon spoke about how staff members at his program encouraged him to attend community college, which eventually led him to obtaining a bachelor’s degree and pursuing a master’s degree. Since leaving his program Amado has also become an advocate for juvenile justice system reform by serving on the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee and has progressed to national and international stages like TEDxPennsylvania Avenue and the Skoll World Forum.
The Massachusetts YouthBuild Coalition would like to extend our deep gratitude to David Abromowitz and Dorothy Stoneman of YouthBuild USA and all of the YouthBuild USA staff for making this opportunity possible for our students and the eleven Massachusetts YouthBuild Programs. This is an annual event that the Coalition looks forward to each year. It is important that our students understand that they have the potential to influence people beyond their programs who share an interest in their success. We are also very grateful for the generosity of all of the partners of this terrific event: