Six months ago, Amber, who uses the pronouns ‘they/them,’ graduated from YouthCare’s YouthBuild, a six-month pre-apprenticeship program that allows young people to earn their GED and build a thriving career in the construction trades.

Amber began young adult life just like many of us: they fell in love. At first, they felt safe and secure with their partner, who provided a roof over their head and food to eat. Amber hoped for a loving future together, and soon introduced a beautiful son, Jonah, into the family. But over time, Amber’s partner became controlling and violent. Amber wasn’t allowed to finish school, find a job, or ask friends or family for help. They were forced to rely on their abuser to survive.

After four traumatic years, Amber made a brave choice to escape. “I needed to leave for my son—I couldn’t go on like that,” they said.

Amber reconnected with relatives in Renton and finally had a moment to plan their next steps. With a four-year-old son, they grew anxious about how they would provide for their family.

“I was searching for jobs but wasn’t getting anywhere,” said Amber. “I found out about YouthBuild and how it only takes six months to get your GED and find a good job. I thought, maybe I could do that…maybe I could tough it out for six months.”

On the first day of class, Amber thought their anxiety was going to get the best of them. Sitting in the classroom, they had a feeling the teacher was going to call on them. Amber felt their skin grow hot and their heartbeat quicken. They sank down into their chair before bolting out of the classroom toward the bathroom. Hidden in the corner of a stall, they began to hyperventilate.

Just as Amber was thinking of calling it quits, Jeanette, YouthCare’s Construction Skills Trainer, came in to check on them.

“She was real with me about things I needed to work on, but supportive, too,” said Amber. “I thought, okay, these people seem to really care. I can like this place.”

Sticking through YouthBuild wasn’t easy. Between dropping off Jonah at daycare, taking a one-and-a-half-hour bus ride to YouthBuild, and working another job at night, Amber was exhausted.

“It was hard. If Jonah was sick, I’d have to find another way to make up time in class. But at YouthBuild, staff understood my hectic schedule. I’d come in later to study one-on-one.”

That one-on-one time with staff was a crucial ingredient to Amber’s success at YouthBuild. Indeed, individualized attention is often the difference between a young person failing or succeeding in their educational goals.

“I had never gotten that at any other school…and I’ve been through a lot of them,” said Amber. “I have major test anxiety. I’d have a panic attack before every test. But the staff took the time to help me. I ended up acing all of my GED tests.”

Support from staff extended beyond the classroom. Staff made sure Amber had everything they needed to succeed in the program, including guidance and support for Jonah.

“YouthCare helped me with so much, like bus tickets and clothes. But I’m most thankful for them helping me with Jonah, because I was the only parent in the group.”

By the end of the program, Amber was leading the cohort’s student council and ultimately graduated YouthBuild with honors. But their success wasn’t just professional—it was also personal.

Amber leading a tour at YouthBuild Exhibition Day
Amber leading a tour at YouthBuild Exhibition Day

“Before YouthBuild, I never thought I’d be brave enough to tell people my preferred pronouns. The team always encouraged me to be myself. This is who I am.”

This holiday season, Amber is putting the skills they learned at YouthBuild to work by building floating wall shelves as a gift for their loved ones. They are currently working for a small company remodeling homes, and have big dreams of running their own home improvement company one day. They want to hire and advocate for LGBTQ+ people and women in the trades, because they know from experience how hard it is to break through industry norms.

Young people like Amber come to YouthCare full of potential. Yet life circumstances, such as Amber’s traumatic experience with domestic violence, can make it hard to find the confidence to achieve that potential. Amber is proof that young people can move beyond barriers and build a thriving future.

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