AT AGE 15, I made a dramatic switch from a private school to a Philadelphia public school. The extreme change in environments was challenging. As each day passed, I felt more out of place. Embarrassment created my dark path to cutting class and contributed to my lack of motivation and goals.
After trying home-schooling and other programs, I got pregnant and discovered a tougher challenge: a family.
My own family reinforced the importance of education. But as time passed with goals unfulfilled, reality hit hard. I refused to become another statistic, and began the journey of researching alternative schools. YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School seemed interesting because it offered an opportunity for high school dropouts to earn a diploma and learn career skills in construction, technology or nursing.
The first orientation at YouthBuild was exciting. Members repeated the mantra, "Once in YouthBuild, always in YouthBuild." Over time, my goal changed from attending community college to a university, as the staff encouraged me to apply to a four-year college.
The YouthBuild staff believes students have the ability to reach their goals, and the staff is there to make a difference in their lives.
My technology courses taught me how to install software, repair hardware, troubleshoot problems and properly connect motherboards. As AmeriCorps members, we donated refurbished laptops to low-income families. I participated in a SAT prep program that provided students with college mentors and opportunities to visit different universities. This type of support is hard to find in other schools.
I graduated as salutatorian in 2007. Through hard work and self-motivation, I received a scholarship from La Salle University, where I'm a junior studying management-information systems. I'm 20 years old and married to my childhood sweetheart. Together, we have goals to provide the best for our sons.
The problem: YouthBuild Philadelphia, like other cities, can only enroll 200 students yearly due to low funding. Two hundred students is not enough compared to the thousands of applications submitted each year. I know that YouthBuild needs funding to expand opportunities.
I was told that President Obama likes what YouthBuild offers and would like to increase the student enrollment from 8,000 to 50,000 yearly across the country.
I'm also told that Congress will soon decide whether to expand the program in the economic stimulus bill. YouthBuild's financial goal is $500 million, and the staff running the program believes that amount could train and educate 30,000 young people, and produce thousands of units of housing for low-income families across the country.
YouthBuild Philadelphia is grateful for everything our elected officials have done to help.
Mayor Nutter, whom I had the pleasure of introducing at a youth mayoral forum in 2007, has commended YouthBuild publicly many times over the years. We are also extremely grateful to our senators, including Arlen Specter, who has supported YouthBuild, and Bob Casey Jr., who's visited our program.
I'd love to share some facts with other elected officials: We know that high school dropout rates have increased due to reduced opportunities, rising pregnancies, poverty, violence and other problems. Many people want change, but it is impossible to develop schools like YouthBuild without money. To decrease teen pregnancies and eliminate drug dealers from street corners, YouthBuild needs to be able to enroll more students.
YouthBuild provides hope and determination in young people.
We need to keep second chances available.
We need members of Congress to open doors for young people to succeed by increasing funding for YouthBuild. *