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YouthBuild Northwest Recognizes First Graduating Class in Cadillac

Two rows of people. In the back they are older and standing. In the front are young a wearing graduation caps and gownsMike VanNatter will always be able to say he did something no one else will ever be able to do. He was first in line as he and his classmates walked in to the room for the first ever Completion Ceremony at the Cadillac site of YouthBuild Northwest. While it was nice to be a member of the first Cadillac class, it was even more important for VanNatter and the other young adults to recognize how their lives had been changed by the YouthBuild program.

"I was a high school dropout," said VanNatter. "Now I'm a college student, moving on, getting a job, earning my own income and getting my own life."

Older gentlemen handing a young women a certificate"I never thought I could go to college," said Kristina Ryerse, a YouthBuild student. "I never thought that I could get my GED. I never thought that I would have people that would support me the way I was supported."

"It's been pretty remarkable," said Ken Gorlewski, the site coordinator for YouthBuild Northwest in Cadillac. "Some of the youth were shy, bashful. As the year went on their confidence grew, you could see their change in posture, their voice, their tone."

YouthBuild is a national program that helps young people earn their GEDs or improve their basic academic skills. Participants also receive construction training and learn work readiness and leadership skills. Along with certificates of completion these students, and five others who completed the program but were unable to attend the ceremony, earned a variety of training certificates, including a nationally recognized construction certification.  What the students learned in YouthBuild has made it possible for some of them to enroll in college while others have landed jobs.

"YouthBuild is what keeps kids out of trouble," said John Brand, a YouthBuild student.

"It has them start a new life."

"It's closing one chapter and beginning another one," said Ryerse. "One that's far greater than I thought I could ever do."

Our Township greatly benefits from Network Northwest's experience, depth of knowledge and understanding. Because they work with so many diverse communities in our ten-county region they understand the local land-use issues and are already working on solutions by the time we realize we need some help.
- Susan Odom, Chair, Suttons Bay Township Planning Commission