Media CenterCatholic Relief Services’ YouthBuild Graduates Travel to US to Build Homes for Low-Income Families in Arizona

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U.S. Deputy Secretary of State to Join El Salvadoran Students 

Five graduates of Catholic Relief Services’ flagship youth development program in El Salvador are in San Luis, Arizona, today building homes for low-income families as part of the first-ever Global Service Day. The five graduates, all of whom are in their 20s, joined 70 YouthBuild students from Arizona and Mexico in the border city of San Luis to work hand-in-hand in building the walls of two green homes that will be owned by low-income families.

The goal of the event, which is sponsored by Prudential Foundation as part of an alliance with CRS partner YouthBuild International, is to spur conversation about ways to foster opportunity and self-reliance for young people who have never finished high school and are living in violent and poor neighborhoods around the world. 

“Much of the discourse about immigration is focused on building up the wall between Mexico and the United States,” said Kay Andrade Eekhoff, CRS Regional Technical Advisor Youth Employability. “Today, young people from El Salvador and Mexico are lending a hand to their counterparts in the U.S. to build a very different type of wall. Rather than call on Mexico to pay for a wall of exclusion, policymakers across the region should invest in youth, create opportunity and empower them to change their lives.”

Traveling for the first time to the United States, the five Salvadoran youth are graduates of CRS’ YouthBuild project. The six-month, intensive program—developed originally by YouthBuild USA, Inc. in Harlem, New York—works with private sector companies and regional governments to give thousands of youth in Central America training and seed capital to create employment alternatives in the limited job market. The model uses community projects to help young people acquire critical leadership, service and job-preparedness skills, while working on service projects in their communities.

“For me, Jóvenes Constructores (YouthBuild) is family,” said Crisia Mendoza, one of the five Salvadoran program graduates. “I learned to value myself, to love myself and to find friends.”

Mendoza joined Jóvenes Constructores because she was forced out of her high school, losing her scholarship, due to threats by gang members. Mendoza suffered domestic violence most of her childhood. Her father’s drug use damaged her self-esteem which was significantly recovered through the supportive environment of Jóvenes Constructores, which created for her a new family environment. Through the program, she started her own small business venture in homeopathic medicines to cover her expenses for high school, and now college.   

Mendoza was one of the young people who spoke at an opening ceremony that kicked off the event, which was attended by Heather Higginbottom, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources; Lata Reddy, vice president of Corporate Social Responsibility at Prudential and president of The Prudential Foundation; and Tim Cross, President of YouthBuild International.

After the build, elected officials and students had a round-table discussion about students’ efforts to rebuild their communities and their lives. 

Robyn Fieser

Regional Marketing Manager - LACRO

Robyn Fieser
March 2, 2016

Based in Bogotá, Colombia

Robyn is the regional marketing manager for CRS in Latin America and the Caribbean. She raises awareness about CRS’ humanitarian and disaster relief programs, serving as a contact for key news outlets and coordinating coverage of emergency and development stories. From a base in Bogata, Colombia, she travels throughout the region to...More