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Youth Success

shaunteese's Success Story

A Picture of Courage OF BUILD’S YOUTH

“Happy. Sad. Angry. This is how I see my daily life.” Shaunteese Parker shows off her latest painting from Art Boot Camp, a spring break program for students in BUILD’s after-school programs. Clearly defined borders divide her canvas into three sections. Each has a distinct texture, but it’s one painting. “Red is angry. Blue is sad. Pink is happy.All three parts come together.” 

It takes courage to create an original. Shaunteese knows this because, at 15, she is heading downa path she chose - she wants to be a teacher, which is not what everyone expects. “Everybody in my family has been in a gang,” she says, including parents, her four siblings, and numerous cousins. She’s the youngest, and feels pressure every day to follow in their footsteps. “I’m probably the only one that will finish high school.” Her idea to teach elementary school came from observing her BUILD mentors, Ms. Lorie and Ms. Hart. Her love of children comes from her niece Alaysia, whom she has cared for since she was two weeks old. 

“It’s my dream. I love children and have experience with them. I feel like I can make a difference in their lives the way BUILD has helped me with mine. It’s easy to see Shaunteese as a teacher. She has a strong voice, honed in BUILD’s public speaking competition. In 2016 she placed third, with an original speech on a painful topic – she was abused by schoolmates as a first grader. It took a year to get ready to tell that story. “When I finally talked about it, it was a relief. I was happy I had told somebody and that they understood.” Her family remains a source of mixed emotions. Most days, when she is not at BUILD’s programs, she goes straight to her room and locks the door.

Her decision to choose a different lifestyle is understandable, but the isolation is a challenge. With BUILD’s help, Shaunteese is turning obstacles into assets. She’s still a bit wary about new friends, but the peer connections she’s making are starting to take hold. “I see them as my family, and know that they would protect me. Anybody in BUILD would.”



LATEE's success story

A Leadership Decision

At 16, Latee Smith gives a normal teenage answer to ‘what do you want to be?’ “I like sports, so ‘athlete.’ Or lawyer or doctor, if that doesn’t work out. Also, I want to get married and have kids.”

There’s something engaging about Latee. He carries himself with the quiet assurance of a leader, and thinks before he speaks. He’s come a long way in a short time, and appreciates it. A year ago, Latee was in the hospital, recovering from a serious gunshot wound. It was gang-related, and he wasn’t a bystander. Gang-involved since he was 12, his leadership ability first emerged on the streets. No one was surprised when Latee got shot. “I won’t lie – I liked it at first. If I wanted money, I didn’t ask my mom. I just went and got it.”In Austin, that meant selling drugs and a lifestyle of dangerous friends and violent competitors.

After multiple suspensions from school, he was barred from BUILD’s after-school programs. Yet BUILD’s doors stayed open. Our Intervention team made sure Latee knew he was welcome back, once he was ready. Getting shot was his wakeup call. BUILD was there. He started coming every day, and things began to change. “People at BUILD are doing things with their lives. I get experiences here I’d never have in my life,” such as Bulls games, sports leagues, and the leadership program. He is building new relationships with other youth, as well as with the Intervention Specialists he used to tune out.

“Now I listen. They’ve been through some of the same things I have.” Latee is now a freshman at Marshall High School, working hard to catch up. He used to get D’s and F’s. “Now it’s B’s and C’s. Sometimes an A.” He’s active in the leadership program, and looking forward to our community clean-up. “Austin could be great, if you took away the gangs and violence.” He’s also learning that his story has power, and has appeared in the media several times. He steers clear of his former life, though our staff have noticed that his old friends still see him as an example - a positive one this time. He doesn’t recognize it himself, but Latee’s a natural leader. Give him time. He’s just getting started.



ESTRELLA's success story

Star Power in Humboldt Park

“I don’t know what I’d be like without BUILD…” Estrella reflects. “Definitely not as successful.” In Spanish, Estrella is the word for ‘star.’ It fits. As a sophomore, she’s earning a 3.9 GPA in honors courses at Roberto Clemente High School. Estrella’s been with BUILD for most of her 16 years – she started as a first grader. She’s taken advantage of every opportunity we offer – from Arts Boot Camp to the Youth Leadership Council. She’s learned the value of persistence. “It’s not one thing. Every day has a moment that changes my life,” Estrella explains. To her, the staff are like family, especially Coco, whom she’s known for years. “It’s like we’ve grown up together.”

At BUILD, she’s already preparing for college, and is applying for summer programs at DePaul, the Art Institute, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. UIC is the top choice. The program has a health focus, and she wants to go into medicine. It wasn’t always easy. A few years ago, her grades plummeted as struggles with bullies and the pressure to fit in distracted her from learning. “I just lost focus,” she remembers. With hard work, Estrella caught up academically and learned positive ways to handle peer pressure. Estrella earned her success, but shares the credit with BUILD. “Coco always helped me – no matter what.” Every BUILD adult is supportive. “It’s not just a job. They care.” We’re proud of Estrella, and look forward to watching her shine in high school, college, and into her career. Her program at BUILD costs only $630 a year. A star like Estrella is worth every penny.