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YouthBuild Program Gives Troubled Youths a Second Chance

James Mackey was part of a gang in Columbus, Ohio. But after losing one brother to gang violence and another to jail, he turned things around.
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After a life of hard knocks and poor choices, some just need a chance to turn things around.

That’s what James Mackey wanted for himself once he realized his life, and the people he cared for most, were going the wrong way in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. Mackey spent his younger days dealing drugs and was in a gang.

But the death of his brother to gang violence just ten days after Mackey’s 20th birthday, and another brother who ended up in jail, put things into perspective.

"That’s when I realized I had to take the initiative to find my way out of this position that I was in," he said. "You know the hood."

He found his answer in YouthBuild, a non-profit program operating in 45 states that helps students learn job skills and earn their high school diplomas.

"It taught me about the importance of bringing your family together," he said.

Youthbuild gets young people working together to learn construction skills to help build affordable housing and other institutions like community centers and schools, while building social skills along the way.

"We're not just trying to prepare them for a dead end job. We're saying, 'You can be the change agent in your community,'" Dorothy Stoneman, founder and CEO of YouthBuild, said.

Mackey, 29, earned his diploma and now mentors students in Massachusetts.

"I see myself in these young people all day, every day," he said. "The struggles that they go through, I've been through it."

In Zion, Illinois, 22-year-old single mom Tatiana Spies is using YouthBuild to try and rebuild her life. She quit high school four years ago, when she was a junior, and is the mother to a 3-year-old daughter. She’s also an intern at a local fire house.

"I see myself doing big things," Spies said. "I'm looking at the big picture. I'm taking small steps now so I can make it there."