Ely discovered he was a leader while at LA CAUSA YouthBuild in East Los Angeles, California.
During my time at the LA CAUSA YouthBuild program in East Los Angeles, I discovered that I was indeed a leader and that there were leadership assets within me and within my community. This served as the foundation for my leadership experiences and enabled me to become a nontraditional leader.
LA CAUSA YouthBuild empowered me to define who I am as an individual and how I want my community and society to view me. No longer did I allow a fatherless past or a past of living at the mercy of poverty to dictate my actions. I took control of my destiny. I discovered a passion for empowering people, a passion for being a voice for fellow young people everywhere, and a passion for social justice. During the YouthBuild program, I was connected to and worked with organizations that dealt with environmental issues, education issues, and youth engagement.
At the age of 17, I became a leader by serving as a community organizer and challenging the justice and education systems in Los Angeles to provide more resources for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated young people who want to change their lives.
My YouthBuild program connected me with organizations like the Youth Justice Coalition and Public Allies, where I further developed my skills in community and youth development and quickly became a valuable asset in the nonprofit sector. In 2006, I started a youth leadership program that has become its own nonprofit organization: Leadership through Empowerment, Action, and Dialogue Inc. (LEAD). My organization is sought out locally, nationally, and internationally to help build innovative youth leadership development programs with an emphasis on social justice.
Many of these experiences have helped me develop skills in organizational and community development, training, and facilitation. I wanted to elevate these skills so I could become more professional and marketable. I took advantage of YouthBuild USA’s Graduate Facilitators Program, which encourages and works with graduates who have natural ability in public speaking and facilitating so they can become full-fledged trainers and advisers to youth programs. Through this training I gained valuable skills and knowledge in areas such as:
- Project and group management
- Adult learning theory
- Youth leadership development
- Consulting basics
- The science and theory of facilitation and training.
All of these skills, along with my experience in the nonprofit sector, helped me fulfill my dream of working in the environmental field. In 2009, I became the outreach coordinator for GRID Alternatives Greater Los Angeles, which provides energy efficiency education and solar-panel systems for under-resourced communities. They do this at no cost to homeowners. My favorite part about that job was making a direct and positive impact on the environment and on the living situations of our clients by helping them produce clean energy while saving money on electricity.
YouthBuild was instrumental in building my foundation of professional and transferable skills. They take a partnership approach to developing young leaders by offering resources and connections to other programs and organizations. It was up to me to take these resources, make the connections, and build my professional portfolio to get to the place I am today.
There is something I learned in YouthBuild that I constantly pass on to others: Do not be afraid of learning more; do not be afraid of growing more; do not be afraid of success. The impact that an underresourced but promising young person’s success has on his or her community and society is one that will transfer over to any job and professional sector and can serve as an inspiration for young people everywhere needing a piece of hope.
* In 2014, Ely launched LEAD YouthBuild in Northeast Los Angeles, the first YouthBuild program founded by a graduate.