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Partner Stories

From Incarcerated Teenager to Community Leader

May 20th, 2024
Student sitting at a picnic table reflecting on past experiences

Joseph, now 20, was living a life of trouble and obstacles, lessons he now utilizes for others as a beacon of hope. He’s positively impacting and empowering the lives of Tucson youth as a Community Violence Specialist at Goodwill of Southern Arizona Youth Reengagement Center (a.k.a. Metro).

A group photo of the staff from Goodwill of Southern Arizona's Impact Youth Center

Finding Help and Support at the Metro

As a 16-year-old who had dropped out of high school, Joseph’s mom delivered him to Goodwill as a last resort. “When I first walked in, I was so nervous,” he reminisces.

“Over time, I found my comfort level. I discovered numerous resources, most importantly, people who genuinely cared.” 

Joseph, on his experience at the Metro

Joseph capitalized on services, including the ability to re-engage in his education with Grad Solutions, a free online credit and dropout recovery program helping Arizona students graduate high school. “He participated in tutoring sessions, social-emotional well-being services, and honed financial literacy through budgeting workshops. He embraced development programs and leadership opportunities, showcasing his dedication and ambition,” remarked Kiana Green, his Academic and Volunteer Coordinator at Goodwill.

Sign on an interior wall listing Goodwill's mission: "We provide jobs & training for people to gain skills & achieve independence"

Joseph succeeded despite challenges, becoming a success story with the Metro and Grad Solutions. “Being around guns, I’ve had some close calls,” Joseph shares pensively. “I’ve also faced charges for shooting at someone, but those experiences have given me a unique perspective. Now, I use them to talk to others about making better choices, steering away from violence, and leading a positive, productive life. It’s my chance to turn mistakes into lessons for others. I’m genuinely excited about that.”

Achieving Success and Looking to a Bright Future

Joseph feels like he’s repaying a debt to both society and himself. “I’ve made my share of mistakes,” he reflects. “Knowing I did wrong, helping others is like balancing it out; I did a lot of bad, and now it’s time to do a lot of good. It’s something I know well, so I know how to do this job”. “I’ve been there, done that,” he says. “I understand the struggles because I’ve lived through them. I’m here to show others how violence and quick cash aren’t the answer.” 

“Education is the answer. It might not be the easiest way to break cycles, but with Grad Solutions, I’ve learned there are options.” 

Joseph, on his experience with Grad Solutions

A student sitting at a table with his laptop working on an online class.

“Taking my Grad Solutions classes from a cafe for an hour or two a day, strange as it may sound, is my relaxation time. I tell the people I work with finishing high school is easy; you just have to do what needs to be done.” 

Sarah Arsenault, Grad Solutions’ Director of Learning and Engagement, emphasizes through collaboration with Goodwill of Southern Arizona we dismantle barriers, offer comprehensive support, and create a nurturing environment where dreams can flourish. At the heart of it all is Joseph — a shining example of resilience, determination, and the power of community support.

Undoubtedly, Joseph’s impending diploma achievement marks another milestone in his remarkable journey from a teenager with a rap sheet to a young adult with a new roadmap to life. With the unwavering support of Goodwill and Grad Solutions, he’s rewriting his story, and inspiring others to do the same.

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