“From the day I stepped foot into YouthBuild North Central (WV), my life has never been the same. It is like I jumped onto a moving train to success.”
My name is Sharell Harmon. My experience is one of challenges and reconstruction. My story is a YouthBuild story.
I was raised in a single-parent home with three children. By age 17, I was a mother to my oldest son. Thirteen months later, I was a mother of two. Providing for my children comes naturally to me. I was celebrating my second year in my first home with my two oldest children and all was well. I had a good paying, full-time job, a reliable vehicle and my bills were paid.
When I started making $13.50 an hour, my childcare assistance was terminated. I could not rely on family and friends to watch after my children while I worked. Eventually, my work hours diminished to a point of no return. I still do not understand how I went from being a working mother receiving a minor amount of assistance to losing my job and needing to fully rely on government benefits.
I wound up losing my house first, the car second and my dignity third. Mentally, I was shattered. I was so anxious to find a way back to self-sufficiency and I was pregnant with my third child. I felt like I was set up for failure.
I knew what I had to do to ensure that everything was right in my life and for my children. Months later, I applied for subsidized housing in Elkins, West Virginia. It was important that we had a place to call home again, to rehabilitate our lives and get back on track with our family’s growth. When we got to Elkins, I knew I would have to depend on assistance just until I got established.
At my initial appointment, my new caseworker asked if I was interested in the YouthBuild program. She handed me the brochure. It had three questions… Do you need a GED? Do you need a job? Are you between the ages of 16 and 24? I did not need my GED because I had already obtained my high school diploma, while having two kids and working, but I did need a job and a fresh start.
For once, I was doing something for myself. Not for financial gain, but to regain my dignity. The entire staff at my YouthBuild program has helped me get there. From the day I stepped foot into YouthBuild North Central (WV), my life has never been the same. It is like I jumpedonto a moving train to success. In my third month at YouthBuild, my program manager, Michelle, encouraged and supported me in attending and representing our YouthBuild program at the 2015 Conference of Young Leaders (CoYL). She made me feel invincible and powerful. I knew it was my time to step up. I was born a leader, I just never felt it or recognized it until I came across the YouthBuild movement.
The CoYL was M-A-G-I-C-A-L! No other word can describe the experience I had. I gave my first public speech at the CoYL (in front of more than 200 people) about why my leadership was needed on the YouthBuild USA Young Leaders Council. I was voted onto the council. I had never been so confident in myself.
Since being a YouthBuild student, I have gained many certifications, volunteered in my community and served for change. I was even featured in a New York Times article about the Lifeline Program (the free cell phone service that helped me to communicate when moving to West Virginia). After YouthBuild, I conducted a service year, providing emergency food supplies to low-income people in Randolph County, West Virginia. Service and giving back is now my life. It is what I absolutely love to do. I continue to serve on YouthBuild USA’s Young Leaders and Policy Councils. I am now a sophomore in college and I plan to obtain my Master’s Degree in psychology.
It was an amazing experience to sit in the room with so many significant people doing extraordinary things. I went to Dallas, where Starbucks hosted the 100K Opportunity Fair. I was on a panel, where I was asked a series of questions about what barriers young people face and why. Since living in West Virginia, I developed a passion for rural America. My answers were focused on the barriers for young people in rural communities. A thousand young people were interviewed and hired at the 100K Opportunity Fair, by major companies like Macy’s, JCPenny, T-Mobile, and many more. Earlier this year, I was elected onto the Starbucks Opportunity Youth Leadership Council. In addition, just two short years later after graduating from my YouthBuild program, I am now the President of the Young Leaders Council.
I am now the happiest I have ever been in my entire life. I feel unstoppable. It is scary to think that I would have never had any of these experiences had I not come across YouthBuild. My leadership was exposed through YouthBuild and now I am a phenomenal young woman and my future is brighter than it has ever been. I am back on the path to success. YouthBuild was my “compass”—guiding me along the way.