After five months in a jail cell with a career criminal, the 20-year-old, soft-spoken, lightly bearded Grady Evans vowed he’d never return to prison. Portland YouthBuilders helped turn Evans vow into reality.
YouthBuilders, an alternative high school in southeast Portland, strives “to support young people who are committed to changing their lives to become self-sufficient, contributing members of the workforce and their community.”
Evans, who joined a YouthBuilders’ program in January, was a young man headed toward drugs, gangs, and jail, but the program gave him a second chance. “In jail, I realized I could have been someone better,” Evans said. “YouthBuilders has given me what I prayed for in jail: another chance to show everybody who has doubted me.”
YouthBuilders serves more than 200 young adults a year, aged 17 to 24, who have dropped out of high school for any number of reasons — including homelessness, drugs, crime, abuse or mental health issues. Success through YouthBuilders only happens if the student wants to change. Drug tests are given to ensure they stay clean.
Students choose one of two programs: 1) Build three to four affordable houses each year, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, or 2) work on computer technology, which includes refurbishing computers, designing web pages and creating multi-media projects. Students receive stipends based on their performance, while taking academic classes to earn high school diplomas or GED certificates.
“Our young people are at an age where they can completely turn around and become productive citizens,” Executive Director Jill Walters said. “Transformative work occurs here. A lot of them say, ‘This is my last chance.'”
“I want way more,” Evans said. “But it’s harder than it looks.”
To find out ways to give to YouthBuilders visit their website.