John Valverde, who began a career improving services for offenders during his own 16-year prison term, will succeed YouthBuild USA founder Dorothy Stoneman when she retires in January.
YouthBuild USA is the national provider of assistance and support to about 250 YouthBuild sites in the United States and another 80 programs in 21 other countries. YouthBuild programs serve unemployed and out-of-school young people, generally between 16 and 24, as they work toward their high school diploma or equivalency. Participants learn career skills by building affordable housing and other community assets in their neighborhoods and engaging in community service and leadership training.
About a third of YouthBuild participants have been convicted of a crime, a trait they share with the national organization’s incoming leader. Valverde served 16 years in prison in New York after killing a man who had raped his girlfriend.
“From the first moment, I knew that what I did was wrong, but it was a much longer process to come to terms with it and accept full responsibility for my actions,” Valverde said, in a speech delivered three years ago at a fundraiser for the Osborne Association, where he currently serves as vice president for program operations.
The Osborne Association was founded 83 years ago by Thomas Osborne, the former mayor of Auburn, N.Y. who also once served as warden of New York’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility. It offers vocational training, education, and treatment-oriented services to prisoners in several state-, county- and city-operated New York facilities.
Valverde, who was incarcerated at Sing Sing, graduated from the Osborne FamilyWorks Parenting Program in 1992. He joined the Osborne staff in 2009.
In 1998, while he was in Sing Sing, Valverde co-founded the Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison, which to this day uses private funding to support education programs in five New York prisons. The organization’s rise was a reaction to the 1994 federal legislation that abolished Pell grants for incarcerated people, which essentially ended the hundreds of college programs operating in U.S. prisons at the time.
Stoneman announced in May that she would retire at the end of 2016. She established the first YouthBuild site in Harlem in 1978. New York City used tax levy funds to proliferate the program across the five boroughs from 1984 until 1988.
In 1990, Stoneman founded YouthBuild USA and set out to replicate her model on the national level. By 1992, YouthBuild USA had set up 20 programs in 11 states.
Stoneman’s early success in proliferating the program earned YouthBuild the “Holy Grail” of federal support: a dedicated line item in the appropriations process, established through legislation introduced by former Sen. and current Secretary of State John Kerry. Through that line item, $60 million in federal funds annually flowed to support local YouthBuild programs.
YouthBuild’s federal support jumped to $120 million in 2009, with an infusion of cash supplied through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Since then, it has settled in at about $80 million.
Research firm MDRC is currently conducting a random assignment study of YouthBuild using 75 of its 260 U.S. programs.