Newest Richmond YouthBUILD graduates celebrated

16 newest Richmond YouthBUILD graduates celebrated
All photos by Kathy Chouteau

If you could change your life trajectory in just 18 months, would you?

The question posed by Richmond YouthBUILD instructor Eric Smith during YouthBUILD’s graduation ceremony last week was, at least in part, rhetorical. By joining and completing the YouthBUILD program, 16 new graduates did, in fact, change their life trajectories in a matter of months.

The YouthBUILD program offers participants an opportunity to overcome their at-risk backgrounds to earn high school diplomas through John Muir Charter School while concurrently receiving free training in construction careers. In April, the program was awarded a nearly $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to train young adults who are not enrolled in school or participating the labor market.

The 16 newest graduates of the program include Sonya Alvarez, Jose Anaya, Sebastian Camacho, Kayla Chanhsombath, Alejandro Chavez, Dwayne Durham Jr., Jimmy Elizondo, Bryant Garcia, Jonathan Garcia, Edwin Graciano, Jadden Murrie, Sam Omer, Aaron Ornelas, Geovanni Pena, Rick Ramsay, and Jose Tapia.

While each and every one of these graduates will face a new set of challenges in their careers, they’re now prepared to meet those challenges head on, Smith said during Friday’s graduation ceremony at the RichmondBUILD Academy at 360 South 27th St. YouthBUILD graduates are not only taught the critical skills that are needed in high-demand jobs, they’re also taught “how to learn,” Smith said.

“They’ve learned transferable skills,” Smith said. “They’ve learned how to put one foot in front of the other. They’ve learned how to analyze information. They’ve learned how to ask questions. They’ve learned how to get ready for the next beginning.”

Sonya Alvarez is both excited and prepared for the challenges ahead. Before she started YouthBUILD, Alvarez said she was working at a bakery and struggling to find motivation and direction. A friend told her about YouthBUILD, and two weeks later, she began her journey to finish her high school diploma.

“It’s never too late to achieve your goals,” she said.

Alvarez thanked Fred Lucero, program director of RichmondBUILD, a program targeting adults, and YouthBUILD, for giving her “the courage to get out of my shell and giving me the opportunity to work for Saarman Construction.”

“And Mr. Smith, he taught me the value of education and my love for writing,” said Alvarez, adding that he’s “not only a teacher who teachers, but he inspires.”

She also thanked her family, friends and encouraged her fellow classmates to believe in themselves, to stay positive and consistent.

Friday’s graduation featured remarks from Lucero, along with Tamara Walker, deputy director for the City of Richmond’s Community Services Employment & Training Department, Dawn McConnell, COO of The John Muir Charter School, and Dave Marshall from the organization The Self-Awareness & Recovery program (SAR), which aims to reduce recidivism and incarceration rates. Marshall gave $100 to the top three students of the cohort.

For more information on RichmondYouthBUILD, go here.

Kathy Chouteau contributed to this report