Building better futures by building projects and earning a high school degree

Da’Shaneia Jones wiped away the tears that marked the struggle to get to graduation day — earning a high school diploma from the Paterson Great Falls YouthBuild.

Public and nonprofit money funds YouthBuild for 16- to 24-year-olds who, for one reason or another, left high school before they could finish. Through YouthBuild, they earn a degree and learn construction industry skills from on-the-job building projects.

“Today we celebrate this wonderful group of young people having worked extraordinarily hard over this past year, having crossed many, many obstacles, and having gotten to this date because they said that I want to succeed,” said Robert Guarasci, founder and CEO of the New Jersey Community Development Corporation.

After letting the streets take over in his youth, 21-year-old Corey Boyd never gave up.

“I didn’t expect to be here, honestly, because I came here last year and I went to jail. I almost gave up. I came back and YouthBuild help me push myself more and more,” Boyd said.

“I’m very, very proud of him, how he achieved so much, and I prayed a lot,” said his grandmother, Stella Boyd.

Boyd and Rebekah Lugo are among the few graduating with diplomas and certifications for pre-apprentice construction training, OSHA, and CPR/First Aid.

“I was always a very good student, always got straight A’s. But as soon as life started hitting me hard, they started to slip and they slipped hard,” Lugo said.

It’s been a long, hard, bumpy road for some of the graduates who just got their GED, but this is by no means the end of their education.

Lugo is college-bound to become a veterinarian.

“I’ve always been very passionate about animals. I’m very good with animals. I love all types of animals no matter what. I’m not scared of anything,” she said.

“I’m just so impressed with my daughter and I thank God for that,” said her mother, Noemi Lugo.

Boyd’s in community college working toward a psychology degree.

“I want to be able to help kids realize the street’s not where it’s at. They don’t know what they’re headed for in life, and I’ve been through it and that’s not what they need,” he said.

Paterson’s Mayor Andre Sayegh said the graduates did more than build projects.

“The most important things you built up was yourselves. It’s about character,” Sayegh said.

Forty-six states have YouthBuild programs. Paterson’s has been around for 20 years, saying and showing it’s building better futures.

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