Student Spotlight

Amber Woods


Amber Woods dropped out of Seneca High School at the end of her sophomore year. A stressful home life defined by her brother’s incarceration and her mother’s struggle with addiction informed Amber’s decision to leave home at age 16. She only needed a few more credits to move on to the 11th grade, but the pressure at home was too much to bear on top of school assignments. After making her own way for a while, Amber decided to finish her high school education by earning her GED at the Kentucky Youth Career Center (KYCC). She got within two tests of earning it before she was knocked off course again, this time by an abusive relationship. Once she escaped her situation, she got a job at McDonalds to support herself. Soon after, Amber discovered that she had a baby on the way, so she applied to be a manager for the pay raise she would need to take care of it. It took six and a half months of special training to enter the position, but she powered through it and got the job.

Amber’s new role at McDonalds had her working 40-50 hours a week. It was hard, but the extra income helped her find secure housing, which was a necessity since the time to have her baby was fast approaching. All the while, Amber’s vision never clouded. She knew that the best thing she could do for her unborn daughter was to finish her education, so she began looking for programs that would accommodate her needs. Amber knew of a few friends that graduated from YouthBuild, and she had seen the difference that it made in their lives. Joining YBL seemed like the next logical step. Amber applied to YouthBuild in August of 2020 and began her term in September. 

“It’s like a family here. Anything I need, whether it’s help with finances, housing, education, or counseling, there are people here to help. Everyone’s been with me every step of the way.” 

When Amber got to YouthBuild, she was ready to make the most of her experience. She only needed 7.5 more credits to earn her high school diploma, so she started working on GED ready tests right away. She passed them all except for math, but thanks to help from our STEM tutor Bethan Kannapell, she retook the test and passed it just one week later. Amber earned her GED by early January, but she was far from finished getting everything she could from the resources and support she found at YouthBuild. Amber earned her Home Building Institute (HBI) certification, her OSHA 10 work safety certification, and her First Aid certification, and she’s almost finished with her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certification. Amber wasn’t satisfied with simply using these accomplishments to build her resume, however. Once she graduates, Amber plans to return to YouthBuild as a CNA instructor.

“I’m speaking it into existence. I’ve already been reaching out to hospitals to get donations for training materials here. I forward the replies I get to our volunteer coordinator so she can follow up and secure the supplies. My contact at UofL actually offered me a CNA job at the University Hospital once I pass my test, but I want to work for YouthBuild. I want to give back.”

Amber has consistently gone above and beyond as a YouthBuild student. She regularly steps up during class to encourage her peers and make sure they’re on track and engaged. From reminding rowdy construction students of workshop safety rules while tools are in use, to leading presentations and morning meetings, Amber’s commitment to bettering the program, her peers, and herself could not be more evident. 

By March of 2021, Amber had completed her GED, built up a resume to be proud of, and welcomed her daughter Ah’Miracle into the world feeling far more prepared to provide her with a better life. Now that it’s almost time to graduate, Amber is excited to take the next step in her own life, and continue her education at Ideal Beauty College. She plans to work at YouthBuild part-time while attending cosmetology school. That way, she can make money to provide for her daughter and follow her dream at the same time.

“I never saw myself going to college because I come from a low-income family and I don’t have anyone to help me pay for anything, but thanks to my AmeriCorps Education stipend, the recommendations I can get from the teachers here, and the skills I’ve built along the way, that dream may actually come true.”

When asked to share a few words about her experience for the next generations of YouthBuild students, Amber had this to say:

“There have been times when my home life has thrown me off, but I’ve always had people here to pick me back up. At the end of the day, you either want it or you don’t. If you’re ready to change your life, the doors are open. The sky's the limit; it’s just up to you.”

Alumni Spotlight:

Natalia Wales


Background

Natalia’s story is one of found family and perseverance. Before YouthBuild, Natalia didn't feel safe at home. She wasn’t comfortable living in a hostile environment, and she would often run away to avoid the people that she lived with. She would have liked to keep attending her high school, but if she was reported missing, the police would know where to find her. Still determined to finish her education, Natalia started going to GED night school. It was there that she met Rae Martin, YouthBuild’s COO, who saw that she was struggling and suggested that she come to YouthBuild where she would have a more robust support network. Due to external forces like the need to escape and heal from an abusive relationship, Natalia wound up attending YouthBuild off and on for several years, chipping away at her goals while taking the time she needed to take other important steps in her life, like having her son Talian. Even though it was hard watching cohort after cohort graduate without her, she never stopped fighting for that GED. She always attended the ceremonies in support of her peers too, and YouthBuild always found a way to make her feel valued and included, even though the events were bittersweet. When she finally graduated, everybody cheered. Staff and students alike were overjoyed to celebrate her success.

 

Interview

Tell us about the service you performed when you were a YouthBuild AmeriCorps member and how it impacted you.

“We helped feed the homeless through AmeriCorps multiple times. We got to have nice conversations and form genuine connections. We also tore houses down and cleaned them out, which opened my eyes to a process I wouldn’t have seen if I wasn’t at YouthBuild. Going here showed me that you can help someone without receiving anything back and still feel good about it. When I started, I was young and didn’t care about other people. I was too focused on my own problems. After seeing the smiles we gave people, my heart started opening up. It seems small, but the difference changed my life. Now I care.”

 

How has your life changed after YouthBuild? What are you doing now that you wouldn’t be otherwise?

“I already have a business where I do hair and lashes, but I officially start beauty school in August. I’m going to use the Education Award I earned through AmeriCorps to help pay for that. Overall though, going to YouthBuild changed the way I move through life. I never really had teachers or other adults that cared about me the way they do here at YouthBuild. It makes you look at teachers and authority differently when they care about you. They make you feel wanted. I used to have low self-esteem when it came to my education. One time I didn’t know an answer to a question, but I didn’t want everyone to see that I didn’t understand. I tried to keep it in, but I burst out crying. The YouthBuild teachers held me through it and made me feel smart. I had to learn all the stuff I missed after I dropped out, especially math. It gave me a lot of anxiety, but they helped me through it. They can help you too.”

Raven Gregory


Background

Raven dropped out of school in the 9th grade. She initially went to Job Corps to get her high school diploma, but once she started having kids, she had to focus on supporting them for a while. Raven went through three pregnancies in three years, all while struggling to find a good job and stable housing. She was on probation, couch-surfing, struggling to pay bills, and always tired. Raven knew a few people that came to YouthBuild and had their lives turned around, so she enrolled. She didn’t think she’d stay long, given her bad past experiences in school that made her drop out in the first place, but the environment at YouthBuild was totally different. Raven has thrived at YouthBuild, and her positive energy has rubbed off on the other students. She intends to stick around for as long as she can.

 

Interview

How has doing community service as a YouthBuild AmeriCorps member impacted or changed you?

“I feel like it made me realize more of the problems in the community. I never used to notice litter in my neighborhood, but now when I see it, I’ll take my three kids on a cleaning walk with me. I’ve also started giving extra food and leftovers to the homeless people that live around me whenever they’re nearby. Talking to them and seeing their smiles has been really rewarding, and I wouldn’t have thought to help until I started doing it with YouthBuild.”

 

Do any specific service projects come to mind that have had a particularly strong impact on you?

“My favorite service project was when we went to the convalescent home for seniors in the West End. Going on cleaning walks with them and selling soda to fund their art classes was so much fun. Spending time outside with them reminded me that I can help somebody else have a better day just by being there to talk to them. I also want to work with Dare to Care now. I always see their bus near where I live, but I never thought about asking if they need help until after we passed out food with them. YouthBuild helped me learn that giving back is fun! Now whenever I see the bus, even if I’m not with YouthBuild that day, I try to help out if I have time.”

 

What do you want to do with your AmeriCorps Education Award once you graduate?

“I want to go back to school to get a business degree so I can become a medical director. YouthBuild already helped me get my CNA, but a degree will open the door for me to move up the ranks and make more of an impact. I used to work long hours at warehouse jobs for not enough pay, and it really took a toll on my body. Now I can do something that I like instead of waking up dreading every day. The Education Award will help me do that without worrying as much about cost getting in the way.”

Staff Spotlight:

Julian McCrary


Background

Julian McCrary’s life before YouthBuild was full of hardship, depression, and addiction, but he never stopped working to make a better life for his family. As a full-time dad, Julian had to work weekends at a job out of town while his girlfriend worked during the week. Juggling family time with the work necessary to support it was difficult, especially after the recent loss of two brothers. Julian knew that the way he was coping wasn’t sustainable, so when his girlfriend discovered that YouthBuild was starting a new class to help people earn their Certificates for Apartment Maintenance Technicians (CAMT), he was eager to jump on board. Once he got to YouthBuild and met the staff, Julian was overcome with the unfamiliar feeling of genuine comfort in a space where he was welcomed and supported. Seeing the potential in him, YBL COO Rae Martin offered Julian a Construction Trainer position. Although he felt intimidated by the skills and achievements of other staff, he refused to pass up the opportunity. Since then, Julian has described his new job as one of the biggest blessings of his life.

 

Interview

Tell us about the community service you’ve done as a YouthBuild AmeriCorps staff member. How has it impacted or changed you?

“I originally started volunteering on Fridays helping Mr. Larry move furniture in and out of the apartments of the students we housed. Seeing the process of a student coming into the housing program, getting approved, getting assistance with their issues, and us moving them in was a great thing. I can’t describe how I feel being able to help them through that process. I don’t have the words because I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to need the help. Knowing the stress they go through and being able to alleviate that stress has been such a blessing. Being able to teach the students, and now SummerWorks 16-17 year olds, skills that they’ll use for a lifetime has been a dream come true. Passing knowledge down is what it’s all about, so helping teach them the skills they need to be self-sufficient is a great feeling. Watching them pass that knowledge down to others is even better, especially knowing that I was the one to start the cycle.” 

 

What has been a standout moment in your service so far?

“When I first stepped into the Construction Trainer job, I started noticing inefficiencies in the way we were building cedar garden products. I wasn’t confident enough to say anything at first because I was such a new member of the team, but everyone around me had been so supportive, it helped me work up the courage to take charge. I started splitting up the group to form an assembly line, and we finished what would have normally been about 2-3 weeks of work in one day. That really helped me feel like I belonged here.”

 

Where do you want to go from here?

“I want to run my own youth program, and eventually a whole youth center. Working at YouthBuild with all these amazing staff that have years of experience and knowledge about how to achieve your goals has really helped me focus in on the steps it takes to make it happen. Seeing the value that’s being put on my name and the work that I do, especially when I’m not as confident, is an amazing thing. They challenge and inspire me every day. In my 26 years of life, I’ve never felt the energy or love that I’ve received from this place.” 

Staff Spotlight:

Tytianna Wells


Tytianna Wells came to YouthBuild in the Summer of 2020 to direct a documentary called “Surviving Two Pandemics: COVID-19 and Racism” with SummerWorks youth. The film dives deep into the personal experiences of cast members regarding the intersections of race and class in a pandemic-stricken, racist; capitalist context, featuring poetry from Tytianna herself as well as cameos from several community leaders such as Councilman Jecorey Arthur. For Tytianna, providing a platform for young people; especially young Black people, to share their stories from a position of authority and be trusted as accurate translators of their own experience has been one of central tenets informing her philosophy as an educator, mentor, artist, and active member of her community. “As teachers, we’re just building upon the gifts, character, and wisdom that students already bring to the table. Other styles of education treat students like blank slates to fill with predetermined knowledge, but students bring a wealth of experience into the classroom, and a lot of the time, that becomes the lesson. Good teaching isn’t based on the standard, it’s based on the student.”

After the film was completed, YouthBuild offered Tytianna a full-time position as Education Coordinator. The job fit smoothly with her own education and professional journey, as she herself will be graduating UofL with a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction this August. “Helping people get their GED is helping me get my PhD. Everyone’s moving towards their next level, and one isn’t higher than the other. We’re all just helping each other along each other's journeys to be the best version of ourselves.” 

After she graduates, Tytianna hopes to continue working with young people, while also building up her own publishing company, Honey Tree Publishing, LLC. On top of her career as an educator and publisher, Tytianna is the author of 8 books, including “The Bridge Kids: An African heritage family activity book,” “The Healing Tree: A book of poetry, prose, meditations and affirmations,” “#Am I Next? A poetic movement for political reform and Black liberation,” and the childrens’ book series “Sweet Pea and Sugar Tea’s Country Family Adventures: A collection of African-American poems.” 

Tytianna’s poetry has inspired YouthBuild students and staff alike, leading to even deeper engagement and collaboration within the YouthBuild family. “I love collaborating with the people around me,” she said. “I’ve had an opportunity to help our scholars and even colleagues with their goals, particularly with their writing. I’m honored to help them share their stories, because they could be a voice for someone else’s pain. We don’t often have the strength to talk about some things, so when one person’s voice is heard, it inspires others to share too.”

Connecting to people by sharing stories of vulnerability and struggle is one of Tytianna’s greatest strengths and passions. In the classroom, she’s not afraid to meet her students where they are, and this helps her build enough trust that those who usually avoid participating in discussion feel safe enough to do so. “Everything I bring with me, I’m willing to share it, to be a resource. Being able to address my own mental health helps me address similar struggles in my students along their own healing journeys. We do a disservice to ourselves and others by not sharing our experiences.” Hopefully, soon-to-be Dr. Tytianna Wells will continue to share her stories with us for many years to come.

To learn more about Tytianna Wells, you can visit her website, www.honeytreepublishingus.com, her YouTube page, “Honey Tree Publishing, LLC Tytianna Wells Smith,” or her Instagram, TytiannaWellsBooks. She can be reached at honeytreepublishingus@gmail.com.

David Edwards


At 18, David Edwards is one of the youngest members of the January 2021 YBL Cohort, yet he is also one of its most standout leaders. Before coming to YouthBuild, David was living in Atlanta with his dad. Ever since he was little, David has wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps working in construction. As early as 8 years old, David was helping his dad at work. He was asked to help paint a new classroom that his father had built for Georgia Tech, and he enjoyed their experience working together to achieve a common goal. Once he was old enough, David’s mom invited him to live with her and her extended family in Louisville to attend YouthBuild. YBL’s free education and construction certification program was a valuable resource she was excited to share.

David took to the program quickly, and has already stepped into a leadership role around the job site. Because of his prior experience in construction, David already knew of a few tips and tricks to make a day’s work more efficient and productive. On days that he sees his class confused or lagging behind, David is happy to offer advice and teach his peers how to use certain tools. David has also taken initiative asking for help from YouthBuild’s math and science teacher Bethan Kannapell to work on his algebra skills in preparation for the cohort’s upcoming electrical engineering class. It’s not often that an 18 year old has the confidence and wisdom to know when to offer help but also when to ask for it. “It’s been a bumpy road so far,” says David, “but what I like most about YouthBuild is you can ask anybody for help and they’ll help you.” That knowledge of self and commitment to both self- and community-improvement is what makes David Edwards an exemplary YouthBuild Louisville student.

After he earns all his construction certifications at YouthBuild, David has a job lined up in Alabama building a new Kohl’s store with his dad. From there, David hopes to return to Atlanta in search of more work. When asked what advice he would give to future YBL students, David said, “Try all fields to see what you like most, then focus on what you like. You gotta help yourself before you help somebody else.”

Kinzee Forehand


At 18, Kinzee Forehand is one of the youngest members of the Urban Conservation Corps, but that hasn't stopped him from taking on integral leadership roles in the program. While studying Construction and earning certifications through YBL, Kinzee has also volunteered to be a primary caretaker for the animals on campus. Every day, Kinzee makes sure the chickens and turkeys are fed and watered, given dust baths, and have clean coops to live in. He says he took on the role because it seemed like one of the most challenging and he wanted to push himself. Trying new things and stepping outside his comfort zone has been one of Kinzee's biggest goals during his time at YouthBuild, and it's turned into a passion that has bled into his life at home. After learning to cook several new recipes during lunch hours in the YouthBuild kitchen, Kinzee has started cooking them at home for his family. Japanese poke bowls, banana bread, sweet yams, and spaghetti have all been a huge hit.

Kinzee plans to go straight to college after YouthBuild graduation, though he's still unsure of what to major in. With help from YBL case managers, teachers, and peers, Kinzee continues to chart his path and discover new passions by keeping himself open to the many new and different experiences YouthBuild has to offer.

Keishanna Render


Keishanna graduated YouthBuild in 2019 with Honors, the Excellence in Leadership Award, and the Attendance Award. She trained in the Construction and Nursing tracks, earning certifications in HAZCOM, PPE, OSHA 10, First Aid & CPR, PACT, and Customer Service while participating in the Internship Academy and Entrepreneurial Skill Building programs. She traveled to Belize with her YBL cohort to participate in the Hand in Hand project and became a member of the National Association of Home Builders. Keishanna accredits overcoming shyness and her strong work ethic to the accomplishments she made as a YBL student.

After graduation, Keishanna got a job working for Omni Louisville Hotel, but her employment was cut short when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She reached out to YouthBuild for help finding another job and was offered a position in the Urban Conservation Corps (UCC). When asked why she took the position, she said learning about landscaping piqued her interest because it would help her design and maintain a garden in the yard of the home she one day plans to own - a huge goal of hers. To reach that goal, Keishanna has been working one-on-one with a financial advisor to start building credit. Finally, Keishanna recently became a Board Member of the Coalition Supporting Young Adults (CSYA) to advocate for policies that engage youth in meaningful work. She said she feels confident in leadership positions because of the work she accomplished at YouthBuild and is still accomplishing with UCC and CSYA.

Tashayana (Shay) Jackson


Shay just completed her AmeriCorps hours with YouthBuild, and would like to thank YBL "for all the hard work and dedication they put into me and my future." Now that she's earned her GED and become CNA/SRNA certified through the nursing program, Shay plans to begin college this January and work her way up to become an anesthesiologist.

Keyaira Grieshaber


Keyaira signed up for YouthBuild in 2018 looking for direction. She graduated with her High School Diploma in 2019 - something she never thought she'd accomplish. In June of 2020 she was offered a position in the Urban Conservation Corps and was overjoyed at the chance to return to campus. Once she finishes her time with UCC in December, she'll move on to Empire Beauty College with a YouthBuild scholarship. "If it was not for YouthBuild and Kentucky Service Alumni I would not have followed my dream."

Robert Todd


Q: How was your life different before YouthBuild?

A: My life before YouthBuild was streets, gang, drugs, and guns. My daily routine was get up, get my drugs, get my guns, and go stand on the block til I sell out. I lived the street life.

Q: What brought you to YBL? How did you hear about us?

A: What brought me to YBL was I got kicked out of Job Corps and this was my last choice of getting out of the hood the right way. I just walked into YouthBuild and got started.

Q: Do you think YouthBuild is a good fit for you?

A: It gives more than one opportunity to anyone who wants to help themselves.

Q: What's your 5 year plan?

A: I wanna build my own apartments with 17 rooms.

Q: How is YouthBuild helping you achieve your goals?

A: They keep pushing you no matter how hard it gets.

Q: How could YouthBuild do more to help you achieve your goals?

A: I just need them to keep pushing me to do better.

Q: What else would you like to share about yourself? Your values? A favorite quote? Your mantra?

A: My favorite quote is "I got to do this for my son."

Q: What are you looking forward to the most at YBL?

A: Walking across the stage.

Q: What's the greatest obstacle you've overcome?

A: Losing my mama at a young age.

Q: What advice do you have for incoming students?

A: Keep pushing and don't stop because they're not gonna stop pushing you to better yourself. So don't stop.

Q: What has been your proudest moment?

A: Walking across the stage for my HSD, and when my son was born.

Sonny Fishback


Q: How was your life different before YBL? 

A: I was in jail for almost a year and a half. When I first entered the jail, I was scared, confused, nervous, and mad all at the same time. I keep to myself and I didn’t talk to anyone. All your left to do in jail is think and try to enjoy your time. They offered classes to earn your GED but I had no interest in doing school work in a jail. It sounded miserable. 

Q: What brought you to YBL? How did you hear about us?

A: I heard about YBL when I first got out of jail. I was in a program that helped me get my own apartment as a felon and someone there suggested YBL to me since I needed my diploma.  

Q: Why do you think YouthBuild was a good fit for you?

A: I actually wasn’t sure if YBL was a good fit for me when I started. I gave it a shot because I had no other options and nothing to lose.

Q: What did you accomplish at YouthBuild?

A: I accomplished so much. Not only quantitative accomplishments. I matured and took on more responsibility. The staff made me think more positively about life and my future. I also learned how to manage my money. I never knew I had worth in me until the staff taught me how I could accomplish my goals. I earned my PACT, OSHA 10, HAZCOM, Fork Lift, PPE, and a computer literacy certificate. I also earned my GED and I was one of the students picked to go to France to learn gardening in King Louie’s kitchen garden. YBL helped me testify in court to go out of the country as a felon. 

Q: What have you accomplished since graduating? Schooling? Work? Volunteering?

A: While I was in JCYC, the mayor came and talked to the youth. When I talked to him on-on-one, he said he would help me achieve my goals once I was out of jail. I didn’t see the mayor again until he came to YBL for an event. I asked if he remembered me although I know he wouldn’t. He acted as he did anyway, as a mayor would do, and I reminded him of the promise he made to me while I was in jail. Kristen, who works at KYCC (teaches love notes at YBL), told me about Code Louisville because she knew I was interested in coding and software engineering. I applied right away but I was left on the waiting list for months. When I saw the mayor, I asked if he could get me into the program. He said he would put someone named Destin in charge of it. The next day rolls around and I get a call from Code Louisville. Since then, I completed my 4-month training with Code Louisville while working two jobs, and now I work for a software company called Interapt.

Q: What's your 5-year game plan/goal? or at least an idea of what you want to accomplish in the next 5 years.

A: I have a lot of goals I want to accomplish in the next 5 years. My job has set me on track to make an annual salary of $60,000 at a minimum. I plan on working hard to stay with my job. I’d like to have my car fully paid off. I’ll be enrolling in college in January and I plan to double major in computer science and business management. My longer-term goals are to set up a trust and will and own two homes, one in Louisville, and one for vacations.

Q: What else would you like to share about yourself? Your values? A favorite quote? Your mantra?

A: “If you don’t find your purpose then you are wasting air, forget it though you all are scared.” This song lyric reminds me of what is important in life and that you have to take risks, face your fears, and endure pain to reach your goals.

Q: What’s the greatest obstacle you’ve overcome?

A: The greatest obstacle was believing in myself. Point A was where I was and Point B was where I wanted to be and YBL was the stepping stone and gave me the tools to reach point B. I thought it was impossible for someone like me to be a doctor, lawyer, or professional, I thought death was the most realistic future for me.

Q: What advice do you have for incoming students?

A: YBL is a place where you can have mentors in your life that care about you and your future. They help you get one foot out of the streets. You can be someone who ends the cycle of poverty and violence. Do not be a follower, be a leader of change for yourself and your community.

Q: What has been your proudest moment?

A: I have more to lose now and I understand how my actions affect everyone around me. I always want to show off YBL because they remind me why I am proud of who I am.

Nashia Wilson


Q: What brought you to YouthBuild Louisville? 

A: Realizing my life was passing me by and I didn’t have anything positive that I could say I did in the years prior. Moving back to Louisville felt like a second chance at life and I took that and ran. Honestly, before YouthBuild, I didn't have any structure, motivation, or any positive support. 

Q: What's your 5-year game plan/goal? or at least an idea of what you want to accomplish in 5 years.

A: My main focus and goal is to achieve as much education as possible. I want to earn my GED, go to KCTCS for 2 years, and graduate from U of L. All I have to do is decide what my studies will be. Once I've picked what I'm going to study, I want to start my career and learn as much as I can about that thing and put my all into it. Hopefully, once I'm educated and financially secure, I can volunteer at a Youthbuild or Boys and Girls club. I just want to give back once I'm stable if that makes sense.

Q: How is YouthBuild helping you achieve your goals/what have you accomplished at YouthBuild?

A: Well since I've been at YBL I've earned half my GED and I'm no longer dealing with homelessness, which those are/were my top 2 and I've accomplished one and I'm halfway to my other goal so whos to say what will come out of the time that I have with YBL.

Q: How could YouthBuild do more to help you achieve your goals?

A: Honestly, and I don't think I could be any more honest then I've been in my entire life, The staff at YBL go above and beyond to help not only me and my classmates but even the people who’ve aged out or don't wanna commit. So nothing, they’re perfect.

Q: What are you looking forward to the most at YBL?

A: All of the learning opportunities that YBL has to offer and all the resources and opportunities to come. The people I may meet, the people I may get to help, the communities and the families that I may get to help and see.

Q: What’s the greatest obstacle you’ve overcome?

A: Homelessness since 17.  Many times I've wanted to give up or many times I would have lost my life because I was not saved, and I'm still here kicking, screaming, and fighting my way to the top.

Q: What has been your proudest moment?

A: I have a few: when I got my acceptance letter to YBL, when I passed my 2 GED tests, and when I got my apartment.

Q: What advice do you have for incoming students?

A: If you don't really want it and don't plan on working for it, let someone who does want it, have the spot. YBL isn't going anywhere and is ready and willing whenever you're ready. 

Q: What else would you like to share about yourself? Your values? A favorite quote? Your mantra?

A: The last thing I want to share is that I've never felt so loved by so many people genuinely. I've never felt this much love and support in my entire 20 years of life, and I never knew how important support and genuine love really is to a person.  My favorite quote is “keep your head up”, I don’t know who said it but it gets me through some hard times.  My mantra would have to be “Everything happens for a reason” because it's true, Life won't give you anything you can't handle.

Anthony Harvey Jr.


Anthony Harvey Jr. is one of our five Urban Conservation Corps (UCC) members who started in August of this year. So far, Anthony has prepared for jobs in landscaping, insulation, and water waste management through hands-on training and Roots of Success Curriculum. The most interesting environmental fact he has learned this year was about West Virginia residents who are getting cancer due to the burning of coal in their cities. Also, the resident’s fossil fuel consumption in Kentucky has a direct effect on the residents in West Virginia. The combination of hands-on training and Roots of Success Curriculum has influenced his concern for the environment and his motivation to be a part of the green sector movement.

Anthony heard about YouthBuild Louisville (YBL) through many of his neighborhood friends. He wanted to start his career pursuits in a program that would help him focus on what interests him, and he figured YBL was his best option. Anthony loves to work hard and enjoys motivating people to work hard. Anthony’s short term goal after completing the UCC program is to get into the union and gain more green construction work experience. His long-term goal is to own his own green construction and landscaping business. Green construction meaning he would use recyclable materials to build structures for his clients. For the rest of his UCC service, he is looking forward to applying for the France trip the most. He believes he has a strong case for getting a chance to work in the King's Kitchen Garden in France because of everything UCC has taught him. 

Anthony enjoys playing basketball and video games and exercises in his free time. His advice for incoming students is to work hard if they want to succeed in the YBL program. Something he has learned the most at YouthBuild is teamwork, specifically how to work with different personalities. “Teamwork makes the dreamwork.” is Anthony’s motto. Most importantly, he wants future students to have fun and make the most out of what YBL offers. YBL can help students with any career they are interested in. 

Joseph Magruder


Joseph Magruder, 2019 YouthBuild graduate, was chosen for our Student Spotlight. He accomplished many feats this past year and has ultimately found a career in electrical work.

Joseph or Joe for short, grew up in Louisville his whole life. He was a honors student at Olmsted Middle and participated in many extracurricular activities like quick recall and band. Later in his high school career is when his life took a turn. He made friends that lived a dangerous lifestyle and started to adopt that lifestyle himself. He enjoyed the freedom that came with that lifestyle but hated the fear. He wanted a better life and sought for stability but with so many defeats, he eventually became comfortable and thought this lifestyle was his only option.

Joe’s mother was the biggest advocate when it came to Joe changing his lifestyle. Joe said one night his mother prayed that he would be gifted with an opportunity to change his life. The next day, she received an email about YouthBuild’s Mental Toughness Orientation. She knew that was Joe’s calling and set him up right away. At first he was hesitant, but since he was being paid by YouthBuild, he knew he could at least try it out. Joe moved back home and began the process of changing his life around. His mother refused to see his potential go to waste. Ever since Joe enrolled in YouthBuild, he found a sense of direction; he saw the multitude of possibilities for the future and became invested in changing his lifestyle for the better.

While at YouthBuild Joe earned his High School Diploma, and received many certificates; Pre-Apprenticeship Certificate Training (PACT), Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Certificate, HAZCOM, Customer Service Certificate, Kentucky Employability Skills Certificate, CPR, and his OSHA 10 Certificate. He also was chosen to travel with YouthBuild to Belize, to build house for a homeless family, and France, to work in King Louie’s Kitchen Garden. He went beyond expectation and because of his outstanding dedication to work and his community, Joe was offered a 3 month internship with Xpert Design & Construction which led him to his current Job with Goodfellas Electric. Finally, Joe can envision a more positive future for him and his family.

His long term goal is to earn a degree in environmental science and his short term goal is to learn how to drive. What Joe valued the most about YouthBuild was meeting new friends and gaining a stable job.

Muslimo Abdullahi


Muslimo, or ‘Mo’ for short, has overcome adverse circumstances and flourished during her time at YouthBuild, which is why she is our Student Spotlight! Mo came to YouthBuild wanting to complete her High School Diploma because she had a tough time completing her diploma during her formal education, due to not having the right support system that could assist her with balancing her life as a mother and a student at the same time. Once she got on her feet, she applied to YouthBuild to spark a change in her and her son’s life.

When Mo entered our program, she was a very shy and quiet person. She said it took her time to build up the courage to complete school. She used to question if she was making the right choice by coming to YouthBuild. This changed once she realized that YouthBuild would give her the confidence and resources she needed to reach all the goals she dreamed of. Earning certificates and gaining better communication skills helped Mo believe in herself. She also attributes her success to words of encouragement from her new YouthBuild family and close friends.

After gaining the confidence she needed, Mo completed her GED in December. In the process of completing it, she also completed her OSHA, PACT, HazCom, Forklift, PPE, and Customer Service certifications. She decided to take our CNA career route training because she wants to pursue a career in nursing. The best part of Mo’s day is seeing her child and her favorite thing is trying new foods when she can. Mo’s advice to new students is: “Stay focused on your goals and don't hesitate to ask for help if you need it. We are all family at YouthBuild and that involves your family encouraging you until the end. Be determined to reach your goals.”

 

Keishanna Render


Keishanna was born and raised in the heart of Louisville, Kentucky and graduated from Iroquois High School in 2015. Keishanna has played basketball since 6th grade for her church and schools and still practices with her friends. Basketball was something she could turn to when everything else was going wrong. Keishanna wasn’t satisfied with her life, bouncing back and forth from different factory jobs. Doing that for a couple of years made her realize that she wanted more of a challenge in life and knew she had the potential to do something more impactful. She didn’t know where to go or what to do until she heard about YouthBuild Louisville from her uncle and knew it was the perfect fit.

At first, Keishanna was always calling YouthBuild, wanting to know if there was a way she could start sooner than orientation. After helping her Grandmother while she was ill, Keishanna gained a passion for helping others. Seeing how she helped her grandmother, Keishanna realized her own potential in becoming a Registered Nurse. Keishanna was ready to make big life changes when she realized she could receive training in YouthBuild’s Nursing Career Track and become a Certified Nursing Assistant by graduation.

Not only does YouthBuild have her ready to start her CNA training in December, but Keishanna is also registered to start college at JCTC, August 2019. By the time she is in college, she will have already completed her CNA training. This experience will help her work towards becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse through JCTC. While waiting to start her CNA training, Keishanna has completed HAZMAT training and will complete OSHA and CPR training in the next two weeks. Keishanna’s advice for incoming students is, “Take advantage of the opportunities YBL offers. You can come and complete your GED, get help with interviews and resumes for jobs, and get training and certification in things like Construction and Nursing.” Keishanna also mentioned that she values the staff and her peers the most at YBL because they are the people who make YBL a reality.

 

Brandon Brownlow


Brandon is an alum who stops by from time to time. He graduated in 2004 and represents the earlier graduates of YouthBuild Louisville. He visits to catch up with his friends from YouthBuild and to meet new incoming students. Since YouthBuild helped him get direction in life, he wants to return the favor and be a positive role model for any new incoming students. He wants to be a part of the change our students undergo because he sees the value it brought to his own life.

We love when Brandon stops by because he reminds students of what is important to think about when starting the program. Brandon says, “You all (new students) should come into the program open-minded. YouthBuild changes you and it's best to embrace the change. It will result in a positive mindset moving forward. Also, doing things you’ve never done before may be scary but YBL will never put you in a harmful situation. Even if you find the program to be tough, don't give up; there are many different ways to get the same result - try it again in another way. Basically, prepare for a positive life change.” Students never take advice from alumni lightly. We are grateful to have Brandon as a mentor for our youth.

After YouthBuild, Brandon went through a lot of training and jobs to get to where he is now as a Dialysis Technician. In the future, he hopes to open up a staffing agency for people interested in becoming a Dialysis Technician. His target group will be young males from the west end of Louisville. He wants to first get his students a technician certificate and then teach them the next steps in what they need to do moving forward. He figures he will teach them everything he had to go through so they can avoid any barriers holding them back from completing the process of becoming a Dialysis Technician.

 

Brittany Pettway


When Brittany Pettway, age 20, entered YouthBuild, she was doing drugs and did not have a high school diploma. Throughout her time at YouthBuild, she has been able to overcome her drug use and earn her diploma. She has even started the process to become a teacher in the Jefferson County Public School system.

The closeness of YouthBuild is something Brittany cherishes the most, especially being able to spend time with other students outside of school. Having teachers push her to do her best, especially Ms. Rae, is what Brittany credits as her inspiration for getting her diploma. Brittany’s favorite memory at YouthBuild was getting her diploma, a feat that may not have been possible without some tough love and dedication.

Brittany has embraced YouthBuild's values and attitude, “I feel like it’s helped me become a better woman and actually see who I really am outside in the real world,” she said.

As Brittany prepares to enter the workforce to become a teacher, she still continues to thrive in YouthBuild. She recently was picked as one of only two students chosen to go to Washington D.C. to speak on behalf of YouthBuild Louisville at the 2018 Conference of Young Leaders, something she was extremely excited to do. When it comes to advice for students at YouthBuild, Brittany said, “Don’t give up. At the end of the day, you get a good outcome and a second chance just being here.”

 

Elias Norris


Elias Norris, 20, has had a very positive experience during his time at YouthBuild. It was a change in routine and lifestyle for him. He appreciates the community service that the group does on Fridays in the surrounding areas. Doing service in the Louisville community has given him a good feeling he said he isn’t used to! Helping those in need is in the heart of YouthBuild, and it leaves a profound impact on its students! Elias said: I feel like I have matured a lot since I have been at YouthBuild. He then told us that “My decision-making has been influenced a lot since I have been here because I have been in such a positive environment.”

Elias is on track to graduate and have a job in the Construction Industry very soon. He plans to join the union with McIntyre Construction because of the skills and experience he has learned in the construction program! Elias praised the YouthBuild construction program because students do not just build things to get experience, but they build certain things that will help the youth in the community. By building playhouses and playground equipment, Elias is able to learn occupational skills while helping those around him. He recently was asked to speak at the Playhouse reveal on behalf of YouthBuild! Elias said his favorite memory at YouthBuild thus far was doing his first demolition day with the construction program! He said it was a good way to release stress.

 

Morgana Dockery


YouthBuild is proud of all of our graduates and their accomplishments after leaving the program. Many former students stay connected and update us throughout their journey. Morgana Dockery graduated from YouthBuild in 2002, part of the original first class from YBL.

After graduation, Morgana attended Jefferson Community & Technical College where she received her Associates in Applied Science and Medical Assisting in 2008. She became a Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) holding that position for nine years working at various organizations like Family Health Centers and being a part of the team to start the Shawnee Christian Healthcare Center in 2011. Morgana eventually took a CMA position under Dr. Guelda in pediatrics before returning to school at Spalding University in 2015 to get her Bachelor of Science in Social Work. In October, Morgana started her new position at Norton's Neuroscience Institute under Dr. Finizio. Morgana will graduate in June of 2019 and we couldn’t be prouder!

In addition to attending college and working full time, Morgana is also raising two sons, Elijah (19) and Evan (13) and has a wonderful relationship with her boyfriend, Laron. She credits her supportive family and friends, as well as her YouthBuild family, with her continued success! Way to go Morgana!

 

Devontae Pearson


Devontae Pearson is in the student spotlight this month for his exceptional contributions and dedication to the YouthBuild Louisville (YBL) program. After being referred by St. John's to join YBL, Devontae set his mind and efforts on attaining his GED, attending college and getting certifications in Construction and as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).

While attending the YBL program, Devontae has been commended for his positive solution-oriented behavior. He is currently working on completing the program with perfect attendance and enjoys participating in group activities such as working on Kosair playhouses. Devontae strives to be a good role model for others, avoiding arguments, offering help where needed, and promoting abstinence from smoking and drinking. In his free time, he enjoys skating, bowling and playing XBOX.

Devontae has spoken at YBL's March Building Lives Luncheon and Kosair's Playhouse Reveal. He used these events as an opportunity to be courageous and open up about his personal experiences. His hard work and dedication have earned him the opportunity to participate in this year's French Exchange Program in June where he will go with YBL staff and students to work in the Garden of Versailles for two weeks.

Devontae offered his advice to incoming students joining YBL, "Stay dedicated, motivated and show up every day. Waking up every day is all the motivation needed." Devontae's time at YBL has helped him open up to people and strive to help those in need. He has proven himself to be a confident and reliable student over time and is a shining example of what can happen when you try your best to accomplish life goals.

 

Levelle Jackson


An attitude, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website, "is a mental position with regard to a fact or state; a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state." The dictionary goes on to state that the word "positive" can be used as "having a good effect; favorable; marked by optimism." Levelle Jackson is the definition of a positive attitude!

He tries to make everyone smile and keep their spirits up. He’s using that positive attitude to get ahead in life by getting his GED and certification in construction and going on to college for business or real estate. For Levelle, YouthBuild Louisville alumni and his family are the way to success. He wants to change his life and he knows YouthBuild is the way to do that. He advises anyone considering the program, “It’s a good program if you’re serious,” and says it can help anyone get where they need to be to overcome barriers. He’s excited to work on Kosair playhouses and the laundromat building restoration at Duvall's Liquors. Levelle’s proudest moment was the project at Mr. Rob’s house. He loved seeing his reaction and the experience he gained using recycled materials for the work (seeing the television coverage on WHAS11 and WAVE3 was cool too)!

 

Eric Hale, Jr.


With his Jefferson County High School Diploma in hand, Eric Hale, Jr. is beaming with pride!  Through hard work and personal dedication, Eric was able to complete his courses and earn the diploma while enrolled in the YouthBuild Louisville program. But the journey was not an easy one, and Eric has worked hard to realize his dreams!

Eric was referred to the YouthBuild Louisville program by two alumni of YouthBuild, Kevin Staples and Maurica Williams. “I heard about their experience in YouthBuild and I thought it might work for me too,” said Eric.

“When Eric first entered YouthBuild his ADHD and subsequent behavior patterns had prevented him from reaching his goals in a traditional learning environment.  This is not uncommon with our students, and it’s something we work really hard to address within our program, but ultimately the students have to put in the work” said Kennina Porter, Program Manager at YouthBuild Louisville.

“Eric has experienced a dramatic transformation over these last few months in the program. Initially, he could barely sit still and focus. It took a while for new habits to form, but he really has invested in the process.  He’s much more intentional about his interactions and has learned to recognize when it is time to separate himself and work on individual work in order to stay on task.  His upbeat personality is now a welcomed trait as he encourages his peers and passionately pursues his goals,” Kennina continued.

Eric is one of the YouthBuild students currently enrolled in the CNA Training program through a partnership with Spaulding University.  Eric plans to attend Bluegrass Community Technical College and later transfer to the University of Kentucky to complete his nursing degree.  It’s been a great few weeks for Eric as he has recently celebrated his 21st Birthday, received his Driver’s License, played in his first game on the YBL basketball team and earned his High School Diploma! Way to go, Eric, we are all very proud of you!