This man is a role model for incarcerated kids. Why? He used to be one of them.

For kids who have grown up in low-income neighborhoods, it can be hard to see a way out.

Seeing the adults around them stuck in the same cycle of poverty, a lot of kids find it hard to believe that there’s any opportunity for them to be different — to be the ones who make it out and carve out a different way of life. The American Dream seems too elusive. Like it doesn’t apply to them.

Robert Clark was one of these kids.

After losing his mother at a young age, Robert turned to the wrong people for guidance. That, paired with the limited resources in his neighborhood, meant that he found himself going down a path that would almost guarantee continual incarceration. Or death.


Robert Clark. All images via Starbucks. Used with permission.

When he was released from prison at 21, he'd had enough. He wanted out of the life he was living. He cut ties with the people he’d been hanging around and tried to carve out a new life for himself. But it wasn’t until he ran into an old friend that he found direction. This friend told him about YouthBuild.

Check it out:

YouthBuild provides troubled youth a path to success with a program that gives back to the community by building affordable housing and offering continued education. A Starbucks original series.

Posted by Upworthy on Monday, September 26, 2016

YouthBuild is a program that helps low-income kids, like Robert, who have dropped out of school to pursue their GED.

When they’re not studying, they’re building housing for the homeless and low-income families in their own neighborhoods.

"We discover that there is an enormous range of talent that is being locked out of society," said Dorothy Stoneman, founder of the program. "But if the young people are given an opportunity they will seize it."

It’s a two-fold approach. The kids working on bettering themselves while doing something for people who are, in many ways, worse off than they are or in circumstances they’ve experienced. It shows them the path forward while giving them the chance to help others move forward, too.

YouthBuild offers hope.  It offers structure. It offers expectations. And the kids rise to the occasion.

Today, Robert is the first YouthBuild graduate to found and lead a YouthBuild program.

He has a passion for helping others to see their way out of the lifestyle he once lived. He knows these kids. He gets them. And he’s committed to helping them.

Because he was once one of them.

"The early months of the YouthBuild program was a magical experience for me," said Robert. "It introduced me to a voice that I didn’t know I had. It was the greatest lesson for me about the power of love, opportunity, and expectation ... they expected that I would be something. And they loved me until I learned to love myself.”

YouthBuild is definitely about learning and building, but equally importantly, it's about community.

The kids who are served by the program need people to talk to who understand where they’ve been and can show them a new path forward. Someone to believe in them in order to see and believe in better for themselves. Someone to give them hope.

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