Phiroth Khourn, or "P." as she's known by friends, was born in Seattle, spent her childhood in San Jose, and has roots in the southeast Asian country of Cambodia.
After the Khourn family was separated as a result of the "Killing Fields" atrocity, in which over a million people were executed and buried throughout Cambodia following a civil war, her parents moved to the United States, where they would eventually raise Phiroth and her sister.
We got in touch with P. to find out why it was she joined YouthBuild, and what her experience was like in the program. Learn more about her in this issue of "In Their Own Words".
Okay, P., tell us a little about your background. Where are you from? Where did you grow up? What's your family like?
I am Cambodian born in Seattle, Washington State, USA. I grew up in San Jose, California. My parents are not Americans they are from Cambodia. They came to America with no education with my sister and me on the way, and it was a struggle. My parents had to make something out of nothing quick to survive. All my relatives were split up in different countries and states after the Killing Field situation.
What was your life like before YouthBuild?
I got involved doing negative things and got involved in the street life. The more street knowledge I gained the riskier my survival became. At one point the street almost took my life. That was my wake up call. It became more and more clear to me that I needed an education.
When and how did you get involved with YouthBuild?
I joined YouthBuild in 2009 and stayed for two years. I found out about YouthBuild through a family member who attended.
What was your experience like with the staff and students at the program?
It took me almost a year to actually trust the staff. When the time went on we bonded and now they're like my second family. I am still friends with a couple of graduates students and am in contact with staff to this day.
How was the overall experience different from public school?
Unlike the public schools, YouthBuild took a sincere interest in me not only to get me ready for my G.E.D. but it also opened up doors for me to enhance my future. The time being at YouthBuild helped me expand my leadership qualities.
What was the construction aspect of the program like for you?
Fortunately we have two great construction staff. This made it much easier to learn and participate using power tools. Its good to know that were helping on rebuilding the community service projects for low income families while practicing teamwork.
How did it make you feel knowing that most of the projects you worked on in your community helped low-income families by giving them an affordable place to live?
I feel that it is an honor to be part of a team that helps low-income people improve their living situation.
What was the most difficult part of getting your GED? How did you feel once you got it?
The most difficult part of getting my G.E.D was the fact that English is a second language to me. Getting my G.E.D was prolonged because I been out of school for five years, but I kept striving toward my success. When the testing center told me that they made a mistake scoring my test and had me re-do it, the struggle seemed harder at that point. So when I did in fact pass it I felt like I took the weight off my shoulders and now I can keep moving forward toward my goals and extend my education.
What's changed about you since you graduated from the program?
Since graduating from the program YouthBuild gave me valuable skills to be successful. Now I have a lot more confidence that I can achieve whatever path I want to pursue.
Now that you've graduated, what sort of activities have you been involved in?
I am now a state employee working for the Department of Developmental Services of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and I'm taking classes in the Fall studying for Human Services.
How did YouthBuild prepare you for life after graduation?
YouthBuild taught me how to set reasonable goals for myself and to make short-term goals towards achieving my long- term goals.
If you hadn't joined YouthBuild, where do you think you'd be now?
I would probably still be living the street life trying to survive, or in and out of jail putting myself in jeopardy.
What are your goals now that you've graduated from the program, both short term and long term?
My short-term goals are to complete one college semester at a time towards a college degree and to become a supervisor or state of Massachusetts administrator. I also plan on owning my own home in the future.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time at YouthBuild? Does anything in particular stand out?
The most memorable moment for me was being selected by YouthBuild Fall River to represent YouthBuild Massachusetts in Washington D.C., meeting other YouthBuild students from around the country, networking and hearing other stories relevant to my own.
What advice would you give to kids who are just starting the program or thinking about enrolling?
This is a unique opportunitiy unlike any other educational programs. So my advice to young adults is to stay focused and take advantage of everything YouthBuild has to offer. Things don't always stay the same because opportunities sometimes come once in a life time so embrace your future.
Do you have any shout-outs you'd like to give to anybody that may have helped you get to where you are today?
First, I want to give recognition to Dorothy Stoneman for creating this movement. Also I would like to give a shout-out to my YBFR staff, most importantly my mentor Ira Joseph for supporting me as I strive toward my success still to this day. I appreciate it very much.
If you're a Mass. YouthBuild graduate interested in sharing your experience with the MYBC community, contact Ted Vrountas at firstname.lastname@example.org
More issues of ITOW: Sthephany Garcia, 2012 YouthBuild Fall River graduate
Nathanael Lopez, 2009 YouthBuild New Bedford graduate
McKaila Coulter, 2011 YouthBuild New Bedford graduate
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