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Opportunity Works Youth Leader Interview


 

 Opportunity Works Youth Leader Interview                           

Darren Aldridge has made a journey of transformation.  In 2009 he was arrested for illegal possession of a firearm. The court mandated that unless Darren wanted to serve time in an adult prison, he must join a program and pursue his GED. This is when Darren found the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP), a New Orleans program that serves 1,000 at-risk youth between the ages of 7-24. “I felt it was a good time to get started with a program like YEP. I knew I needed to get my education in order to get out of the trouble I was in.  I had already dropped out of high school, and tried to get involved with another program, but really didn’t feel like I fit in there."

 When Darren first began at YEP he was often in trouble.  He didn’t like to pay attention to his instructors, would leave in the middle of class, got into a few fights, and was still spending a considerable amount of time “in the streets.”   The staff at YEP stayed with him.  They taught him to take responsibility for his actions and made him realize that he really did want to make a change. With the staff’s help and encouragement, Darren continued with his studies and was able to earn his GED.  As a result, he believes he is a stronger and more focused individual.

 Now, nearly seven years later, Darren, 24, is a full-time staff member at YEP and says there is little he enjoys more than being able to help other young people. “Without the program I don’t know where I’d be. It helped a lot. I never thought I’d be working as a full time employee at this organization, giving back to the community,” says Darren.  Darren is now an instructor, helping to tutor others in the HiSET/GED program at The Village, one of YEP’s programs, and is also the Lead Counselor at the YEP Summer Camp and at the After School Enrichment Program.  He is also a member of the New Orleans Children and Youth Planning Board, where he represents the youth population of New Orleans, speaking up about issues that affect young people. 

Darren started his YEP career as a staff person in the Community Reintegration Program, a juvenile re-entry program, working with young men ages 16-18. “When I started I was only 19, teaching guys ages 16-18.   Even though I wasn’t much older than them, I began getting positive feedback from these guys – they were telling me that I was a blessing. Helping them get on the right track and seeing them change over time excited me. It motivated me to get myself on the right track, too.”  Seeing the difference he could make in the lives of other youth in similar situations made Darren want to take on more roles and responsibilities that would help escalate his own career, but the youth weren’t the only ones that helped shape Darren’s path. “I was the ‘man of the house’ because I was raised by a single mother—that made me strong, independent, and confident. It helped put me on a track to give back to the community and help other guys struggling with a single mother who needed to know they can get up and strive for the best.”

Darren’s work with the New Orleans youth and especially other young men like himself has helped him grow as a person. “I have to continue doing positive things in the community like listening to and working with these youth. To see their achievements makes me happy,” says Darren.

 About Darren: Darren has made a journey of transformation.  In 2009 he was arrested for illegal possession of a firearm. The court mandated that unless Darren wanted to serve time in an adult prison, he must join a program and pursue his GED. This is when Darren found YEP, who helped him realize that he really did want to make a change. Now, nearly seven years later, Darren has earned his GED is a full-time staff member at YEP and says there is little he enjoys more than being able to help other young people. “Without the program I don’t know where I’d be. It helped a lot. I never thought I’d be working as a full time employee at this organization, giving back to the community,” says Darren. You can read the entire interview here. 

 

 

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YEP IN THE NEWS

YEP's youth and staff continue to gain local and national publicity for their engagement in an organization that provides innovative; impactful and cost-efficient programming for disconnected and high-risk youth.