“From the day I stepped foot into Youth Build North Central WV, my life has never been the same. It is like I jumped onto a moving train to success.” -Sharell Harmon
My name is Sharell Harmon. My experience is one of challenges and reconstruction. My story is a Youth Build 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 Youth Build 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 Youth Build program has helped me get there. From the day I stepped foot into Youth Build North Central (WV), my life has never been the same. It is like I jumped onto a moving train to success. In my third month at Youth Build, my program manager, Michelle, encouraged and supported me in attending and representing our Youth Build 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 Youth Build 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 Youth Build USA Young Leaders Council. I was voted onto the council. I had never been so confident in myself.
Since being a Youth Build graduate, I have gained many credentials, 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 Youth Build, I completed a 4-year term of service with West Virginia AmeriCorps, providing emergency food supplies to low-income people in Randolph County and Historic Preservation. Service and giving back is now my life. It is what I absolutely love to do. I continued to serve on Youth Build USA’s Young Leaders (YLC) and Policy Councils and was later elected President of the YLC. I now hold an Associates Degree, obtained from Pierpont Community and Technical College– and entering into my Senior Year at West Virginia University where I will obtain my Bachelors in Sociology.
“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 Youth Build. My leadership was exposed through Youth Build 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. Youth Build was my “compass”—guiding me along the way.” -Sharell Harmon