The program offers youth a second chance at a high school diploma and a career path.

Photo of Darius Bell
Darius Bell, YouthBuild Alumnus, Goodwill Omaha

As SHARE Omaha’s Do Good Days kicks off, Goodwill Omaha is announcing that all donated funds and Amazon Charity Wish List items will benefit the organization’s YouthBuild program. YouthBuild is a national, community-based skills-training program designed to help disadvantaged and at-risk youth prepare for GED testing and apprenticeships in the construction trades.

In a success story video about the program, YouthBuild alumnus Darius Bell said that sometimes all people need is another chance at a future. “Goodwill gave me a shot, you know. And YouthBuild gave me a shot. I felt like if YouthBuild wouldn’t have opened that door for me, it was just the streets left for me, you know … that would have been the only option.”

Bell grew up in the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, an area known for high rates of violent crime and gang activity. As a teen, he and his mother moved to Omaha as she sought to get him off the streets, but he started hanging around the wrong types of people again. After he was shot on his 17th birthday, Bell realized he needed a change, and, on a friend’s advice, he applied to the YouthBuild program soon after.

After graduating the YouthBuild program, Bell attended college and received his associate’s degree. He also earned his commercial driver’s license (CDL), and he’s currently a regional CDL driver.

In the YouthBuild program, students split their time between a vocational training job site and the classroom. In the classroom, they study for GED tests to earn their high school diplomas, learn to become community leaders, and prepare for post-secondary training opportunities like college, apprenticeships, and long-term employment.

“We help our students become more embedded in their community,” said Michael Anderson, YouthBuild program manager at Goodwill Omaha, “so we require them to participate in the construction or rehabilitation of affordable housing for low-income and homeless families in the community. By doing good for others, they learn the meaning of community service and giving back.”

Youth drop out of high school for a variety of reasons, and some might surprise you. “We’ve had students who left school to care for a parent or family member with an illness or disability,” Anderson said. “We’ve had young people who dropped out because they had a child of their own, couldn’t afford daycare, and didn’t have family members willing or who they trusted to care for their child. Sometimes, they’ve had negative experiences with teachers that damaged their self-esteem and self-confidence. And, some young people just don’t learn well in traditional learning situations and do better in alternative learning environments.”

Often, the youth in Goodwill Omaha’s YouthBuild program don’t have strong support systems at home or in their friend groups. “We also provide a strong support system that includes mentoring, follow-up education, employment and personal counseling services, and a lot more,” Anderson said.

For Bell, art became an important part of his healing and personal growth at a young age, and it is one of his passions. Bell wanted to pass on YouthBuild’s spirit of community service, so he founded and currently operates Mr I GOTT This ART, LLC, a not-for-profit business through which he teaches and provides art therapy to people in disadvantaged Omaha communities.

During Do Good Days, Goodwill Omaha is asking the community to consider the YouthBuild program when they’re selecting the charities they want to support. Visit GoodwillOmaha.org/do-good-days to donate and learn more about the YouthBuild program.