Building Better Futures with Education

Karley Holland of YouthBuild

Karley Holland, from Rogue Valley YouthBuild in Medford, Ore., is a passionate advocate for individual freedoms and wants to affect positive change in her community.

When Kim Phinney, senior director of YouthBuild USA’s rural and tribal development program invited me to attend AmeriCorps’ Conference of Young Leaders, I knew the participants’ stories would be more inspirational than anything we could say to the young people being honored.

Thirty of 115 Youth Build members, who came to Washington DC recently from urban, suburban and rural areas, were in town for the Council of Young Leaders elections. They shared stories of the challenges in their lives, including teen pregnancy, domestic violence, incarceration, drug abuse and abandonment. But they made no excuses.

Instead, they emphasized their current paths to an education and a better life. They described how they want to “pay it forward,” and help other young people stay in school and overcome many of the same challenges.

In YouthBuild, they found a second chance — in some cases multiple chances — to obtain an education, acquire marketable skills, chart a new direction to employment, and become leaders in their communities. (YouthBuild receives federal funding from the Department of Labor and has partnered with the Department of Education to give youth a voice in decisions being made related to their education.)

With the support of North Central West Virginia YouthBuild, Caleb Gartman will earn his high school diploma this spring. He wants to start his pursue of a college degree in music this fall.

Karley Holland, from Rogue Valley YouthBuild in Medford, Ore., is a passionate advocate for individual freedoms and wants to affect positive change in her community. She has earned certificates in CPR and Occupational Safety and Health, and is on track to earn her GED this spring. She plans to start college or work full time this fall.

“Life happens,” one of the students said, and with education as a foundation, Caleb, Karley and their peers are headed in a new direction with plans to affect positive change in their lives and in their communities.

Nationally, more than six million 16-to-24-year-olds are disconnected from school or work, about half of whom are high school dropouts. The average person employed without finishing high school earn an average of $20,241, more than $10,000 less than a high school graduate according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The consequences of dropping out of high school can often result in a lifetime in poverty and dropouts make up approximately half of the country’s prison population.

Disadvantaged 16-24 year olds in YouthBuild programs work full-time for six to 24 months toward their GEDs or high school diplomas, while learning job skills by building affordable housing in their communities. Emphasis is placed on leadership development, community service, and the creation of a positive network of adults and youth committed to each other’s success. At exit, they are placed in college, jobs, or both.

Many of the young people in this year’s class also have acquired a sense of civic duty and expressed a desire to assume leadership roles in the organization that gave them a second chance to achieve their dreams.

They are living proof of the power of education to change lives and break cycles of crime and poverty.

 John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education


  1. I, too, am interested in helping children to attain and reach their highest potential and that is why I work with elementary and middle school children at the Boys and Girls club of Silver Spring. As a veteran teacher B. S. in Early Childhood Education and a M.S. in Elementary/Middle School Education and Initiatives, I have created a unique progam in Expessive Arts and Mindfulness Education for these childen. I have been working as a volunteer for 10 years because I believe if these children experience the techniques of Mindfulness and become confident in Self Expression, they will enter all experiences with joy and compassion, with understanding and caring for others.
    Leaders in the present and the future will be needed to serve as compassionate, Mindful people who understand that we are all capable of giving to others.
    My groups of children have already contributed to the community locally and Nationally. They were so happy doing it that they really weren’t aware of the greatness of their contribution.
    I would be happy to join your forces if some people are open to this kind of training.
    My Directors can attest to my comments in this email.
    Thank you and my blessings ,
    Barbara Yoffee, M.S. Ed
    Expressive Arts Educator/Mindfulness Instructor

  2. I too got to witness the progress and commitment of the young leaders who attended the Conference of Young Leaders. Clearly this program is the answer for many who are at a crossroads in their lives. I came to appreciate the impact that caring adults can have in encouraging and supporting young people as they move toward responsible adulthood. The challenge will be to set aside our adult fears, prejudices and preconceived ideas and reach out to young people in our communities.
    Kathleen Moxon
    Redwood Coast Rural Action–California

  3. Christopher: I am currently working on a program to help our veterans of Genesee Co. Michigan. Here we have space to utilize for more than just one program. Funding is our largest concern. We have three volunteers including myself. We understand Flint Michigan ranks dead last in education and is currently running first in violent crime. The two educations and crime are entwined in how the reaction takes place. We are trying to revamp a GM site into a community center that will use the college town collaborative of Flint, MI. We have so many students seeking to get higher education in education and the healthcare fields. We will utilize many of the directors and deans’ help. I have an appointment to meet with the mayor on April 15th to go over the program I feel can put the worst city back on track. I came up with the slogan, Community Unity Program. (CUP) is the acronym that is best fitting for our needs because we are currently in major need of start up funding? If you have any assistance in the regards of what we are trying to accomplish please feel free to email back.

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