If you first met Gabe today, you would know him as a smart and successful man. He is a husband, a father, and currently part of the NorthEastern Apprenticeship & Training Program as an IBEW Local 1049 lineman. What you wouldn’t know was what he’s had to overcome to get to where he is now. Here is YouthBuild graduate Gabe’s story in his own words:
“I grew up in Brentwood, Long Island and lived there for most of my childhood life. When I was 10 years old, my brother’s life was taken by a gang – He was only 19 years old when he died and today he would have been 38. He was my closest brother and the closest thing I had to a role model.
I am the youngest of 6 children. My father only spoke Spanish and I never learned how to speak it. My mother was the only true positive support I had. She took me to church three times a week and I would lay on her lap in the second row, tired and confused because I did not understand what the pastor was saying.
My oldest brother was in the military as a Marine. My second oldest sister used to bully me, my youngest sister was extremely shy and the oldest was the only one who took me out of the house from time to time. We did not have a lot of money. We owned a wood-grain station wagon and we called ourselves “The Brady Bunch”.
When my brother died, I ended up feeling alone. As I got older, it was too easy for me to end up getting involved with the wrong crowds, and I would do anything just to gain respect and make friends. Those times later defined my future. I am not proud of anything I did back then. I was very vulnerable, but I would continue to prove myself. With my brother’s death on my conscience, I swore to myself that I would never, ever join a gang because I knew that I would end up in one of two places – dead or in jail.
Eventually, it all caught up with me. I went to Juvenile hall at the age of 16 and consequently, dropped out of high school. I took my GED in jail that year and got the highest grade within the facility. I thought to myself, “what a waste of talent. Congratulations Gabe, you played yourself.”
I was in the system and no matter how much I tried to turn my life around, I was still looked at as a rebel. Even after I had a child, I was still doing things that would later ruin my life. Until I found YouthBuild Long Island.
The mother of a friend of mine saw me struggling and told me about the program. When I researched it, the first thing that came up was a boot camp. Kids marching, sweating, chanting, and I immediately turned it off and I told myself that I would never, ever be one of those kids. She was extremely persistent and so she bribed me with lunch (at that time I had a large appetite so I was easy to manipulate).
I showed up to orientation and I met Elizabeth Morgan for the first time. Just witnessing her passion made me feel reassured. I also felt this strange positive vibe in the air that was very unfamiliar, but it felt good. I was surrounded by kids with dreams, kids who needed a change, and kids heading down that one way tunnel and knew it; kids like me.
During my stay at YouthBuild, I went to two boot camps, visited different boot camps and encouraged my peers. I even went to a staff boot camp. After graduating YouthBuild in late 2011, I was hired at United Way of Long Island in 2012. With the support of the United Way staff and YouthBuild staff, I was able to shine and make a career for myself in green construction.
I’ve now have the honor of training the YouthBuild and VetsBuild students for a living. Best of all, I’ve been able to pay it forward by working with contractors in rebuilding neighborhoods out in Brentwood and Central Islip. I was the first on Long Island and the first YouthBuild student ever to be awarded the Building Performance Institute’s Home Energy Professional Retrofit Installer certification.
During the construction of two homes in Central Islip, I was given the opportunity to rent a three-bedroom house at a low rate for two and a half years. At this house, I met my wife who recently gave birth to our daughter, and with this position I’ve been able to become financially independent and give my child experiences I never had and become a better father figure and husband in the process.”