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Dinner celebrates YouthBuild

Date: 10/6/2008

By Lori Szepelak


HOLYOKE Isabella Lopez and Angel Roque are perfect examples of young people who want to change their life around.

Both Chicopee resident Lopez, 16, and Holyoke resident Roque, 19, recently started participating in YouthBuild Holyoke through Nueva Esperanza Inc. on Main Street. The program teaches construction skills to high school drop outs, provides leadership development, vocational training and educational opportunities for young people between the ages of 16 and 24. Nueva Esperanza is a community development organization committed to building a safe, healthy and economically viable environment for low- and moderate-income residents.

Nueva Esperanza will conduct its annual dinner on Oct. 17 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Waterfront Tavern to celebrate the year's accomplishments including highlighting the works of YouthBuild Holyoke. The evening celebration is titled "Celebrating Leadership: A New Generation Stepping Up" and will feature music and dancing, food offerings from the Fernandez Family Restaurant of Holyoke and La Veracruzana Mexican Restaurant of Northampton and Amherst, as well as the presentation of two awards "Lifetime Achievement of Latino Leadership" and "Emerging Leader in Holyoke."

During a recent early afternoon break before learning the intricacies of a table saw by construction trainer John Rollinson, the students took a few minutes to praise their instructors and to make area residents aware of the importance of YouthBuild in the community.

"It's very welcoming here," Roque said, noting that during the morning sessions in preparation for his GED testing, teacher Susan Glenn covers a broad range of subjects including writing, science, social studies, reading and math.

Roque's favorite subject is math, which will come in handy as he pursues a career in carpentry.

"I want to give back to the community," Roque added.

Lopez echoed those sentiments.

"YouthBuild is fun and can make a difference in your life," she said. "The instructors work with you and want you to succeed."

Lopez also enjoys all of the subjects covered by Glenn, and especially is focusing her attention on the health care field for her career aspirations.

"I especially want to help elderly people in the future," she said.

Rollinson is a tall, strapping man with a command presence who takes his job to heart.

"I like telling these young adults that carpenters are problem solvers, and I try to help them discover they can make things happen, both doing woodworking and carpentry, which are challenging and satisfying, and in their lives beyond here," he said.

YouthBuild participants spend nine to 12 months in the program, dividing their time between construction sites and the alternative school. Students receive a stipend for their full-time participation. Major emphasis is placed on the participants to develop their leadership abilities so they can advocate for issues that concern themselves and their families as well as their communities.

During Nueva Esperanza's annual dinner, which follows its annual meeting, a yearly progress is presented.

"With the dinner, we celebrate the challenges and opportunities we faced during the year," Gustavo Acosta, president of the organization's board of directors, said. Acosta is also a member of its Fund Development Committee.

Sponsors of the annual dinner include Chaffee-Helliwell, PeoplesBank, Non-Profit Data Management, Career Point, Comcast and Holyoke Community College.

All proceeds raised from this celebration will allow Nueva Esperanza to continue to provide youth leadership programs, neighborhood based advocacy opportunities and programming to maintain affordable and safe housing opportunities, according to Acosta.

Tickets for the dinner are $50 per person and will be available at the door. To purchase tickets in advance, send the mail payment to "Celebrating Leadership" at Nueva Esperanza, 401 Main St., Holyoke, MA 01040. Acosta notes that $40 of the $50 ticket price is tax-deductible.

Individuals or businesses unable to attend the event but who would like to sponsor local youth can indicate how many students they would like to sponsor at $50 each with the payment.

For more information, call Nueva Esperanza's office at 533-9442.