Finding his Full Potential

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.”


A New Life in the Sun

freddie (1)My name is Freddie and I am a proud 2013 graduate from United Way of Long Island’s YouthBuild program.  I was born and raised in Washington Heights, my parents are from the Dominican Republic and my home life was always chaotic – especially with three older siblings.

I had the privilege of attending Brandeis High School on the Upper West Side but did not recognize the advantage this would have given me in life. After only five months, I was kicked out and told that someone who wanted the opportunity to learn would better fill my spot.  At the time I did not mind. I was lazy, never wanted to go to school and only cared to be around people who were like me.

Since I wasn’t in school anymore, I resorted to making money on the streets and was arrested. I served a year and a half in prison. I was miserable. The sun rarely came out. The days were dark, the lights were dim and the jail was cold.

I spent each day there knowing that I had to do better than this life. I hurt so many people coming to prison, including my girlfriend Erica. After my release, I was paroled to my father’s house in Wyandanch. My parole officer told me about YouthBuild, and Erica encouraged me to join. She had aspirations to make something of herself and I knew if I wanted to be with her I had to stay away from the streets and start doing something with my life.

After visiting YouthBuild I was excited to hear about how I could earn my TASC diploma, but unfortunately the rigor of the program proved to be too much for me to handle. I quit.

Again, I was presented with an opportunity and let it slip away.  I came to my senses and enrolled in the summer TASC program. I came to class every day, and was able to see all the great things that United Way and YouthBuild were involved in. After the summer, I took the TASC test and passed. This was only the first step – I wanted a long-term career not a short-term fix so I enrolled in the full ten-month program.

During this time, I learned and did more than I ever thought I could. I volunteered with several agencies, learned leadership skills, attended events, received hands-on training while building a house, and received my OSHA 10 certification and the National Home Builders Institute Pre-Apprenticeship Certification.

I was determined to make the most of this opportunity, so after I graduated I asked to learn more about the Electrical Training Center who I saw working at the E3 Training Center. I went on a tour of the facility, and knew that I wanted to be an electrician. All I had to do was attend and pass the class. The price for this class was out of the range of possibility for me, until I received a scholarship from United Way.

I was so grateful and promised to make United Way proud of me. I passed the course and immediately started my career at Statewide Electric and Communications. I later left to work with Premier Solar Solutions and I am now happily employed by SunPower by Empower Solar, where I have worked as a solar installer for over two years.

At 27 years old I am finally truly happy. Erica and I are now married; we live in Great Neck and are expecting our first son. Now, the sun is always shining and I will forever be grateful to United Way and YouthBuild for supporting and guiding me over the past four years. The amount of support I have received is priceless and I will forever be appreciative.

Making the World a Brighter Place

dsc_0557At only 36 years old, it seems that Englebert has already lived many different lifetimes. His favorite is the one he is living now – holding a steady, and exciting job as a Solar Installation Professional at EmPower Solar.

Englebert’s parents came to Long Island from Haiti, working 12-hour shift days leaving him to be the man of the house, responsible for his own wellbeing as well as his younger sister. It was difficult for the siblings to have a normal childhood as they were typically left with household responsibilities and no money for clothes or equipment for after school activities. Upon graduating high school, Englebert’s future was unclear due to his family’s financial insecurities. After driving past a military recruiting station he decided to take the practice test for entrance into the military, but did not pass. Undeterred from bettering his life, he enrolled in Nassau Community college but had to withdraw after only a semester because he lacked the funds to continue. After studying for the military entry exam for four months, he retook the test, received a 95 and joined the Army.

In 2000, after basic training in Jackson, S.C., he was deployed to Germany for his first tour. As part of the Military Police unit, his training regimen included very physical activities including repelling from high distances while managing heavy loads of equipment which prepared him for any possible case of emergency of catastrophe. After his discharge, he worked as a direct care aid for 10 years, and fulfilled his dream of attending college, taking classes in criminal justice for two years thanks to funds from the GI Bill. In 2014, Englebert came in contact with a case manager from United Veterans Beacon House, who informed him of the VetsBuild program.

“I was looking to do something exciting with my life, something that I could be proud of and truly enjoy,” Englebert explained. “I never knew a program like VetsBuild existed, a program that could help me support my family, work with my hands, and help the environment.”

In April of 2015 Englebert enrolled in the program and successfully completed the five-week program. Recognizing his potential and knowing about his Army training, VetsBuild training director Stephen arranged for a career connection with SunPower by EmPower Solar. In less than a month, Englebert completed an interview and embarked on the first step of a new career.

DSC_0549.JPG“SunPower by EmPower Solar is honored to partner with the United Way Long Island on building zero energy homes, and on its transformation workforce training programs,” explained David Schieren, CEO of SunPower by EmPower Solar. “Hiring from VetsBuild is not only the right thing to do, it’s also smart business.  Englebert is a great example of an individual who excelled in the training program, and has demonstrated his talents, dedication and drive in in the workplace installing solar power. “Bert” is a highly valued member of the team.”

This means the world to Englebert and his family – he lives in Deer Park with this two sons, Micah who is 14 and Isaiah who is 10, and mother.

When asked about how this job changed his life, he reflected “It feels great – I get to spend more time with my family, go to my son’s football games on the weekend, an opportunity I didn’t have when I was their age. The fact that my sons don’t have to struggle like I did makes me so proud.”

The fact that his work helps people live better lives is not lost on Englebert. “I was very close to my aunt growing up, and she passed away when I was young,” he said. “She always told me to be somebody important, to change lives and make people happy so I made a vow to myself that I would fulfill her dream for me. I wake up every morning proud that I am going to change someone’s life and make them feel better because they are saving money and going green.”

“For those thinking about joining VetsBuild, I would tell them to enroll. We fought for our country, we need to help others here like we did when we were in the military.”

10 Reasons to #Give

Today is #NYGivesDay – a day dedicated to giving back to nonprofits throughout New York State by way of a 24-hour fundraising challenge that works to raise awareness, build support, and increase shared philanthropy throughout communities. There are more than 300 organizations participating, why should you chose to support United Way of Long Island?

Here are the top 10 reasons, as spoken by our most important advocates:

dsc_0688“YouthBuild helped me get out of my comfort zone and I am a better man, a better husband, a better father looking to help my community in the best way possible. I’m still growing and have things I need to work on, but I’d like to speak to the students and people who are struggling around me and tell them that nothing is handed to you. You have to put in the extra effort, you have to want to change the cycle of negativity.” — Anthony, YouthBuild graduate

“Although I have moved out of Walkabout, the staff and I have maintained our connection. Here is a little secret: I really needed their support after I moved out. They continue to offer it and it has been invaluable. These people are like extended family and I really appreciate all they have done and continue to do in my life.” — Nia, partner agency Family & Children’s Association client

“I saw an ad about a program from United Way of Long Island called VetsBuild for military veterans where, if accepted, I could learn about green construction that could perhaps lead to a new career at 82. The instructors were great, and before I knew it, I had the tools for a new career. VetsBuild gives veterans the chance to learn a new job or convert from conventional construction to green building. It’s a great program.” — David, VetsBuild graduate

image2_0“The scholarship I received from United Way added value to my acceptance letter to Towson, as it officially allowed me to attend the college I knew would be the perfect fit for not only myself, but my future. I have decided to devote my life to a career where I will be helping others.” — Gianna, DREAMS for Youth Scholarship recipient

“As a senior citizen on a fixed-income, I need help and I’m no longer embarrassed to ask for it. I worked my whole life, but living on Long Island, I’m not making the income needed to support life. I’m making payments each month, but I just can’t keep up.I am so grateful the support I am receiving through Project Warmth.  I feel so much more secure knowing that my family will be warm during the coldest time of the year.” — Joan, Project Warmth grant recipient

“Through United Way of Long Island’s YouthBuild program, I was able to receive hands-on training and learn about weatherization,energy-efficiency and green-building. I am more confident today and look forward to a great career in construction and a positive future for myself and my family. Without YouthBuild, I don’t know where I would be.” — Ivan, YouthBuild graduate

emily“I am proud of myself. I love the Ranch and my people here and don’t know where I’d be if I wasn’t here right now. Thank you for being there for me.” — Emily, partner agency Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch client

“United Way has given me an internship opportunity with “Mission United“,  an initiative that focuses specifically on veterans.  Through this program, I have not only learned so much about the career path I have chosen, but I have met truly inspirational people who are guided by the goodness inside of them.  I look forward to what each day brings me now and am open to all opportunities and life lessons.” — Matt, U.S. Army veteran assisted through Mission United

“I hope to bring my educational, musical and personal experiences together by finding cures and treatments through devices and medicine in biomedical engineering and by playing music professionally with the ability to teach people that music is a language of emotion through music performance/education at the University of Arizona Honors College, a dream made possible thanks to my DREAMS for Youth scholarship.” — Michael, DREAMS for Youth Scholarship recipient

“Even though I have a job and a place to live, travel has continued to be an ongoing struggle. As the weather gets colder and the roads more hazardous, having a car of my own allows me to feel safe again.” — Mark, U.S. Navy veteran Wheels for Warriors recipient

On this recognized day of giving, we are grateful for our supporters that allow us to tell stories like these year after year.


Students Who Make Us Smile

In it’s 8th year, United Way of Long Island’s annual Stuff-A-Bus program partnered with four Long Island bus transportation companies (Suffolk Transportation Service, Educational Bus Transportation, Huntington Coach Corporation, East End Bus Lines) to collect and deliver a record 150,000 school supplies from companies, organizations and individuals across Long Island to more than 6,000 local elementary school students.

The Stuff-A-Bus program provides students from low-income families with new school supplies, preparing them for their academic studies, building their self-esteem, and setting them up for success. Supplies include backpacks, lunch boxes, notebooks, pencils, crayons and scissors – items that young children require in order to excel in their studies.

Supplies were delivered to eight school districts: Copiague, Wyandanch, South Huntington, Central Islip, Brentwood, Freeport, South Country and William Floyd.

Administration, teachers, and students from Lauretta Park Elementary School in Brentwood took the time to write thank you notes, expressing their gratitude for these supplies. You can view these letters, and drawings below. These letters don’t belong to only United Way – they are meant for everyone who donated and collected supplies that allow these children to write and draw these letters.

Running a Marathon for her Family

Deena Only.jpgDeena Menendez of Hauppauge is beginning to undertake the long and rigorous training schedule that will eventually bring her to the New York City Marathon this November. The 26.2 grueling miles will be a quest for personal achievement, but more important to Deena is the cause she will be running for.

Deena, who is a claims adjuster for GEICO in Woodbury, will be joined by runners from other corporations who support United Way of Long Island to form Team Mission United.

The Team will run while raising funds and public awareness for Mission United, which serves active military and veterans across Long Island.

For Deena running for Mission United is a labor of love. Her husband Ed, who served during both Desert Storm and Desert Shield, is an Air Force veteran. Her association with the military does not end there.

Deena’s 26-year-old son Scott served in the US Army. Her oldest son Sean, who is 28, is currently in the Coast Guard serving in Astoria, Oregon and youngest son Shane at 20 is a Marine in San Diego.

Deena is involved in a leadership role with GEICO for their United Way of Long Island Annual Workplace Campaign.  When hearing about the opportunity, her past supervisor, who knew she both ran and had a military background, approached her about being nominated to represent GEICO on Team Mission United.

Deena was honored, saying that, “Joining the Team is the least I can do to help raise money for what active military and veterans have done for us.”

Deena also takes pride in representing GEICO. As a military mom and wife, she has long seen how GEICO supports Mission United and veteran’s causes. Deena has been impressed by GEICO’s philanthropic spirit since she joined the company. She recalled that “From the moment I walked into GEICO 13 years ago I was impressed and inspired how they offer a helping hand to not only those in need but also to our associates. One of GEICO’s undertakings is to help place and find jobs for veterans within the company.”

John Pham, GEICO Regional Vice President and Chair-Elect of United Way of Long Island is pleased that Deena is competing for Mission United. He commented, “Deena is running for all of us here at GEICO. She represents our own commitment to both supporting and hiring veterans. Mission United is near and dear to the hearts of so many of our associates who support the program. To have a valued associate from a military family run to represents GEICO shows our firm commitment to those who have served.”20160817_074312

Deena’s first distance run came this past winter when she entered the Disney Half Marathon in Florida during a family vacation. To keep it all in the family husband Ed joined in as well as their 15-year-old daughter Starlette.  The family got interested in running when Starlette, who has Downs Syndrome, joined a running club that trains at Hauppauge High School.

Deena is already gearing up for the Marathon. She is currently running 2 miles a day, will up that to 10 miles by June and then do a 23 mile run in October before she starts to taper down prior to the race.

Deena is anxious to meet her teammates and talk about running and raising money for Mission United. Although GEICO is offering Deena support, she wants to go above and beyond and raise all the money she can.

Although running in the New York City Marathon has been on Deena’s bucket list, doing it for her family is a major motivation. Deena said that  “Raising money for Mission United to me is supporting what my children and husband have done for the country. I want to give back to them and everyone who has served in the military.”

By the way, Deena and Ed have a fifth child, daughter Siobhan. Currently, she has no military aspirations. Deena reflected that “I have an Air Force Husband and boys who have served in the Army, Coast Guard, and Marines. The only branch that is missing is the Navy!”

Maybe someday.

Support Deena, and the entire Mission United Team today! 

Bellport Students Spend the Summer with YouthBuild

For seven weeks during July and August, YouthBuild Long Island hosted fifteen students from the Bellport area for a special summer initiative, held at the Boys and Girls Club of the Bellport Area. These students, aged 17-24, participated in fun, engaging and enriching activities, including exposure to opportunities that they would not have ordinarily had the opportunity experience.

Throughout the week, the days differed as the students learned about different ways they can set themselves up for success, both professionally and personally. Their schedule included Career Readiness and Leadership Development workshops, Career Exploration tours, and internships with local business partners.

img952136Through Career Readiness instruction, students learned about significant factors that can influence their future in the workforce, including social media (the pros and dangers), communications, interview skills, healthy conflict and how to deal with it in the workplace and job search strategies.

Leadership Development afforded students the opportunity to speak on issues affecting their lives that often don’t have an appropriate forum. Discussions range from communication (passive, assertive and aggressive), violence in the community, life circumstances that often get in the way of our success, and of course, personal development.DSCN0686.JPG

Each Wednesday, students traveled off-site to businesses to learn about the many different career paths available to them. These excursions included Covanta, which works with companies to find sustainable solutions to their waste management challenges, Hampton Inn, where the students learned about the intricacies of running a hotel, B/E Aerospace, Job Corps in Edison, New Jersey, Riverhead Building Supply, and a special behind-the-scenes tour of Fox News in Manhattan.

Students also took part in a one-day solar panel training from GRID Alternatives and applied these newly-learned skills during a two-day work project in Riverhead where students worked alongside the YouthBuild and GRID’s construction staff installing solar panels on a home.

20160824_124717.jpgThroughout the summer, students had the opportunity to hear from a variety of guest speakers including:

Steve Weinstein, Access Careers Institute spoke to the students about the various careers in the medical and healthcare industry and current market trends.

Kyle Caravousanos. Bethpage Federal Credit Union spoke to students about saving and checking accounts, student loans, credit score, and managing finances in a responsible manner.

Although seven weeks might not seem very long, students discovered that they were capable of success and took steps to better their lives.

Dashawn of Bellport made a positive impression on his employer at Carmen’s Canoe and Kayak and was offered a permanent position.

Osei learned about higher education opportunities and will be attending the University of Buffalo in the fall. He said “I liked the work tours, that he appreciated the behind-the- scenes operations of big businesses, the experience, for him was very insightful. It made me want to go back to school and obtain my degree.”

13975459_10154261954266655_8521912847544736160_oWhen asked about what they enjoyed about the program, Terrance from Center Moriches
said, “I liked everything, the trips, learning how to do the solar paneling, the entire experience. Especially how to communicate better because I like to hold things in and YouthBuild taught me how to express myself in a healthy, assertive way. In fact, I learned a lot of little things that can help me with my success.”

Kimberly from Stonybrook, said, “It was good, I enjoyed everything; the trips, what I learned…that there is a lot of opportunities for young people. Prior to this, I felt like those of us who may feel hopeless because of where we come from, had very little opportunity to succeed. This experience showed me that opportunities are there for those of us that struggle with our situations.”

This summer program opened many doors for these young people – a few of whom will be joining YouthBuild for the full program this fall. We look forward to seeing them apply what they learned this summer into their life as they continue their positive progress!