TRA Worcester YouthBuild experience to events that signify the transformation that YouthBuild students undergo in the program. The graduation of the class of 2015 was followed by visits from State Legislators during the Mental Toughness Training for the class of 2016. Senator Harriette Chandler, Representative James O'Day and Representative Mary Keefe all visited the program to engage with the students. The photos that you see below are highlights from these two activities.
Legislator Visits During Mental Toughness Training
Recently, State Representative Tackey Chan visited TRA Quincy YouthBuild during their Mental Toughness for the 2016 class. He gave a brief background about growing up in Quincy and his family. He told the students that the city of Quincy is changing and they could be part of that change. He also talked about his education including Brandeis University and the New England College of Law.
He told the students that he has worked various jobs throughout his career but mostly concentrated on public service. He feels that his work ethic got him through tough times. Much of the time it was trial and error when he was planning out his career. His work life ranged from working 70 hours a week to basically having no money.
He let the students know where he has traveled for work and the importance of being a well-rounded person. He encouraged all to always read the newspaper to keep them informed and up to date on current events.
Rep. Chan stressed the importance about listening to someone's opinion, personal views and experiences. He said that arguments and disagreement don't get to solutions.
One of the topics the Mental Toughness participants were really interested in were Rep. Chan’s opinions on immigration. They were very pleased that he had taken time out of his busy schedule to come and talk to them and look forward to presenting their ideas to him in the future.
At the invitation of Attorney General, Maura Healey, YouthBuild graduates met with senior staff from that office to discuss a number of issues that are relevant to YouthBuild students. This invitation was the result of the Building Better Together event at which Attorney General Healey was the keynote speaker. She listened to the words of three graduates at that event and was so taken by them that she declared that they needed to speak with her senior staff. Among those from the Attorney General's Office participating in the meeting were: Laurin Mottle, Homecorps Loan Mod. Director; Joanna Lydgate, Director of Policy and Assistant Attorney General; Matt Berge, Fair Labor Division Chief; Marcony Almeida-Barros, Community Engagement Division Chief; Marie Finelli, Consumer Protection Program Director; and Rodrigo Plaza, Mediator in the Consumer Protection Program. Representing YouthBuild students were: Glenda Liz Santiago, YB Lawrence graduate, Northern Essex CC graduate and current Salem State University student; Rafael Santana, YB Lowell graduate and current construction trainer at YB Lowell; Cheyanne Estrella, YB Fall River graduate and current Bristol CC student; and Eduardo Joaquin, current student and soon-to-be graduate of YB Lawrence.
While a number of potential ways in which YouthBuild could partner with the Attorney General's office were discussed, the main focus centered on abandoned properties and criminal justice issues.
The abandoned properties are part of a program that focuses on real estate properties seized by the Office and made available in order to mitigate the impacts of the foreclosure process. These properties are generally in need of repair in order to be made habitable for future use. We will explore the possibilities of the YouthBuild programs working on some of these properties.
In the criminal justice arena, the graduates related their experiences with the system and especially, the stigma that attaches to a young person and hinders their ability to gain meaningful employment and move on to a productive future. The office is already working on some fixes to the problems that they have identified, but appeared enlightened on some aspects that had not been considered yet. This discussion open the door to our young people helping to shape policy that will come out of the AG's office. There was also great interest in the low recidivism rate that Massachusetts programs have achieved over the past seven years.
Also discussed was the lack of chapter 70 education funding for YouthBuild students despite being an important alternative education solution to young people who are leaving school. Another topic was the amount of invisible homelessness that is rampant among young people.
The group left the meeting feeling that an important first step had taken place in these discussions. We all look forward to continuing those discussions and how we can all work together to create policy to solve issues.
YouthBuild North Shore recently took part in AmeriCorps held on the campus of Roxbury Community College. This energizing event brings AmeriCorps members from across Massachusetts together for a special day.
YouthBuild North Shore student Scott Dyer introduced the program to the assembly filled with Massachusetts AmeriCorps Programs. After the morning session YB North Shore students participated in the following project:
Don't Dump Down the Drain (Outdoor Service Project)
Members helped to protect Boston Harbor by raising awareness about storm drain pollution! After a brief orientation about Boston's waste water and storm drain systems, they used a detailed city-wide map to navigate our way to storm drains that need protection, and affix "Don't dump, drains to Boston Harbor" decals to the drains. They also marked on the map which drains had decals/ plaques and which ones didn't. They also cleaned drained that were clogged by Debris. Our students participated in both the presentation and walking around the community to check the storm drains.
North Shore Community Development Coalition and YouthBuild North Shore collaborated with artist Ruben Ubiera on a public art installation. Ubiera is a renowned artist who has been commissioned for murals and other large-scale public art installations around nation. He worked with bright colors and detailed designs to create a Postgraffism or urban-pop styled piece on the crosswalk between Dodge Street and Peabody Street. Originally from the Dominican Republic, his family moved to Salem when they immigrated to the United States in the 1990’s. A former resident of the Point neighborhood and a graduate from Salem High School, this is Ubiera's first installation in Salem. Ubiera now resides in South Florida.
The goal of the crosswalk project was to add a creative feature piece to downtown Salem that allows people to stop and enjoy the rich history and culture of the city. The YB students assisted him with creating the Cross Walk Mural in which 3 of them have been featured as caricatures on the crosswalk.
The crosswalk installation is funded by Mass Development’s Transformative Development Initiative, a competitive grant program which invests in Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities. North Shore CDC collaborated with The City of Salem and the Point Neighborhood Association to complete the application. This effort is in response to the Point Neighborhood Vision & Action Plan, a plan created by the same partners in 2013 to improve the quality of life and bring investment to the Point neighborhood.
"The crosswalk installation will be a unique addition to Salem’s downtown streetscape and a creative way of engaging residents in a conversation about our rich heritage and diversity” said Rosario Ubiera-Minaya, North Shore CDC’s Chief Program Officer.
North Shore CDC sees the project as part of its mission of investing in neighborhoods to create thriving communities, as it celebrates the Salem Point Neighborhood through artistic expression.
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:
Local Crowdfund: Tending seeds of progress on Bell Hill
By Giselle Rivera-Flores | October 25, 2015 | Worcester Sun
“I finished high school with a fourth-grade math and reading level and now I am at a ninth-grade math and reading level. I have my HiSET, high school equivalency and I am hoping to find a job when I finish the program,” says Marcus Diaz, a 20-year-old student involved in the YouthBuild program through Training Resources of America.
“Through this program I have learned to do many things and do them better,” Diaz says with an enthusiastic smile as he shows off his newly received equivalency certificate.
Raised in Worcester, Diaz was a student of the Worcester public schools and through the 12th grade was part of the school’s transition program - a program focusing on the lives of special education students beyond the classroom walls. Students with IEPs are given the opportunity to build transitional skill sets that can transform their adult life into a life full of promise, productivity and high confidence.
But what happens when you give low income youth the opportunity to gain self-confidence, valuable life skills sets and an abundance of support from community leaders?
Well, you get a group of astonishing kids sparking change in a dire area of the city.
Standing tall, with a high level of assurance, six students worked diligently on the latest project presented to YouthBuild by Worcester Roots Project (http://www.worcesterroots.org ) and the Stone Soup (http://www.stonesoupworcester.org) collective. The Worcester Roots Project is an organization layered with missions to create a platform for economic, social and environmental justice within the inner city. Partnered with several organizations such as Technocopia, Diggers Landscape Cooperative, WPI’s IQP teams and Green Revitalize, Worcester Roots has established a pilot project with the mission to build a cooperative business and enhance the livelihood of Worcester’s youth.
Although the project has received funding from UMass Memorial Community Benefits, New England Grassroots Environment Fund, the Stoddard Charitable Trust, the Fletcher Foundation and the George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Foundation, the project will need to maintain its funding consistently. The organizers have created a crowdfunding campaign at YouCaring.com in efforts to raise additional donations for the ongoing project and potential expansion into other areas of the city.
The goal is $3,000.
They strive to mold the co-op business model into a system that will allow for the growth of an aquaponics greenhouse - a growing system that mimics a natural symbiotic relationship between fish and plants. Harvesting produce and fish without the need of fertilizers, it maintains an eco-friendly structure also through its recycling of water, allowing the system to use 90 percent less water.
Coupling students in search of high achievement with an innovative project such as the Aquaponics Greenhouse has transformed the atmosphere of the Bell Hill area into a green space of tranquility, prosperity and hope.
"This greenhouse will increase the knowledge, awareness and investment in healthy food options for Bell Hill area residents and Worcester youth. It will advance Stone Soup’s offering of community resources that improve our neighborhood and Worcester, as a crucial part of our mission is creating economic self-sufficiency through the building of democratic workplaces, green jobs and community ownership.” This statement graces the back of the pamphlets given out to the community and partners involved in spreading awareness of the benefits of the co-op.
Set behind Stone Soup, 4 King St., the Aquaponics Greenhouse has broken ground and the project is fully under construction.
The six students take part in every facet of the project. Creating the space, measuring dimensions and utilizing the skill sets taught through the YouthBuild program, the students are showcasing their appreciation for the support they have received over the past two years. Their participation in building a community innovation has boosted their morale, self-worth and overall outlook on their future and the future of their community.
Cyrille Tiako, 21, of Worcester, smiles as he expresses his grateful list for YouthBuild and its excitement over being a part of the Aquaponics Greenhouse. “This project has taught me more than I ever thought I would learn,” he says, while scraping the windows to fit into the perfectly fitted frames of the greenhouse. A native of Cameroon, Tiako explains that his family moved to the United States in search of opportunity.
“My parents moved here two years ago and we didn’t even know English. Now, I speak English well and my two older sisters are studying in higher education. My parents work, but work part-time jobs to help the family. I help also with the household chores and cooking to contribute to my family. Being a part of YouthBuild and the Aquaponics Greenhouse has been great. I’ve learned so much and I am looking to start my first college semester in January of 2016 at Quinsigamond Community College,” Tiako says.
Proud of his achievements and contributions to a project that upholds the very meaning of community through its partnerships, co-op business model and dedication to the socioeconomic upbringing of the Worcester community, Tiako is convinced that the project will shed a light of positivity through the community, and hopes it opens the doors to the addition of other green spaces in the city.
“These kids are special. Not only have they received their HiSET, completed our mental toughness program at YouthBuild but are also taking pride in their community and their abilities,” says Michael Quigley, manager of YouthBuild. “When Stone Soup is in need of volunteers and help in their projects, they do not have to ask us twice. We help Stone Soup and Worcester Roots to cultivate these projects and implement the same missions we have at YouthBuild - to enhance the quality of life in the city.”
The Aquaponics Greenhouse will be the first greenhouse accessible to the community in the city of Worcester, since the demands for a green space became apparent in 2007 among Stone Soup members, greenhouse co-op members and community gardeners. While providing on-site training for the students of YouthBuild, there are also providing a structure to fill the void in the inner city.
The completion date is expected to be soon, after a five-month process of feasibility study, greenhouse design, fundraising, construction and solidification of the project.
If you are interested in donating to their mission to create a greenhouse that will provide more than healthy foods and a workplace for community residents, take a look at their YouCaring page (HTTPS://www.youcaring.com/stone-soup-Worcester-roots-418958 )
Circling back to the good in Fall River
By Yvonne Abraham GLOBE COLUMNIST OCTOBER 01, 2015
FALL RIVER — A lot of redemption stories end with their subjects building new lives far from their troubled old ones.
For Christian Berrios, the new path led back to a place he knew too well — a place where his life was lost and where, with a dose of luck and love, he found it again.
He had made his own choices, but he took a well-worn trail. He was born in Puerto Rico, to a big, poor family. His mother died when he was 8, and his grandmother took him, his six brothers, and his sister to live in a Chicago neighborhood overrun with gangs and drugs. His older brothers soon fell in with the mayhem.
Their grandmother moved them to Fall River to get them away from the streets, but Berrios’s brothers just picked up where they left off, trading on their gang ties to build their own operation in Massachusetts. They forbade Berrios from following them into the trade, and for a while, he obeyed. But in high school, the pull of easy money was too strong.
“Living in the projects, you see that man going to work every morning with the lunch bag, coming home late,” recalled Berrios, now 27. “But then you see the [dealers] out there with the chains on, having a good time.”
He caught on to the game quickly. And he never seemed to get caught, narrowly escaping police raids, inflicting just enough hurt to keep rivals at bay.
But he had a girlfriend he loved, and she hated his choice of career. And he knew it was only a matter of time before he was busted, or worse.
“I was just seeing the walls closing in,” he said. His girlfriend threatened to leave him. He didn’t want to lose her, but he had nothing to show for his years in the trade, except a pair of diamond earrings. He needed to sell one more batch of crack to launch their new life.
That’s when he was arrested, at last. He was 20. He spent the night in a cell at the Fall River District Court. In that small, crowded, foul-smelling cell, Berrios tried not to panic. He put his face in his hands, and smelled his girlfriend’s lotion.
“That moment, right there, is where it all switched,” he said. “The scent of her gave me that picture of what I had been involved in all those years. It killed me.”
He lucked out, receiving three years’ probation. He got temp work but was feeling his resolve slip when an old friend told him about YouthBuild, a national nonprofit that gives high school dropouts a GED and training for good construction jobs.
Berrios knew how much he needed the structure and pride the program could give him. He went all in, showing up on time every morning, examining his bad choices.
“You come here as a rock, all jagged edges and messed up,” he said. “And they’re Picasso. They take a mallet and a chisel and they knock you around until you’re a work of art.”
For better or worse, his family’s bad reputation meant other students looked up to him. The students might dismiss others telling them to pull up their pants or lose the attitude, but they listened to Berrios. That is a mighty valuable asset to have. And so, when Berrios graduated, program manager Carmen Richardi kept him on — first as a graduate assistant and now, as a mentor coordinator.
In June, YouthBuild moved into new premises at the old Fall River District Court. When Richardi showed Berrios where his new desk would be, Berrios bowed his head and laughed.
His new office was the very same cell where he’d sat on that desolate night eight years ago.
On a recent Monday he stood outside it, looking up at the grimy cinder block walls and ceiling-mounted camera. He unlocked a small door in the cell’s heavy wire front, making it squeal.
“What an ugly sound,” he said.
It’s not likely Berrios will ever hear that sound again.
His brothers are still lost, but his life has traced a perfect circle — there and back again.