01/28/2013 05:43 pm ET Updated Mar 30, 2013

How Taller San Jose Gave Me a Second Chance

I don't know what my future would look like if it wasn't for Taller San Jose and Hope Builders. I know I was given a second chance and that it's now up to me to keep on the right track. My name is Gustavo and I am proud to be a graduate of Taller San Jose and an employee of Hope Builders.

When I was 16 I was arrested for the first time and convicted as an adult. I was charged with armed robbery, auto theft and gang activity. Although I regret the things I have done in the past, I am thankful for the wakeup call that came with getting locked up. At that point I wanted to find a way to make my parents proud of me again; I spent the three years I was incarcerated working to better myself. Since I had dropped out of high school during the first month of my freshman year, I buckled down and focused on earning my high school diploma. I also promised myself that I wouldn't go back to the life I lived before my arrest. I saw too many people coming in and out of jail while I was locked up. I didn't want that to be me.

Four days after my parole I started working on a landscaping crew. I was grateful for the work, but, at minimum wage, I knew that I would never make a living this way. I stuck with it for 11 months until I found out about Taller San Jose's construction-training program at my church. Growing up, my dad was a roofer. I thought it would be cool to follow in his footsteps and have a career in the building trades.

I enrolled in Taller San Jose's Construction and Green Technology Academy in June 2012 and quickly found out that this was going to be hard work. Not only did I have to apply, pass a drug test and attend orientation to be eligible, but I also had to show up every day, on time for the entire 16 week program. I was determined not to quit. I studied for my tests and made sure I was on time for class.

It would be a lie if I said I didn't struggle. The three hours we spent learning about geometry and converting fractions each morning was a challenge for me, but it made sense since I got to apply this knowledge each afternoon when we worked in the lab building a one-room house -- measuring and cutting materials, putting up drywall, hanging doors, learning about safety procedures, using power tools, and learning about steel framing. I had never built anything before. I couldn't believe that I could build a freestanding structure!

I am proud to say that I graduated in October 2012 and have earned certifications in OSHA safety, Aerial Work Platform, First Aid, Carpentry Level 1, Powder Actuated Tools Operator and Timely Frame Installation.

I also found a job. In November I became a crew member of Hope Builders, a general contracting company that is owned by Taller San Jose. I now earn $10 an hour. I just finished remodeling a home in Palm Springs. It's a great feeling to have a job to go to every day. It's an even better feeling to have a job you love.

Every day I am learning something new about drywall, plumbing, electrical work and framing.

I still keep in touch with the nine guys I trained with at Taller San Jose. All of us are working!
The good news for me is that my hard work has paid off; I have been released early from my parole because of my good behavior.

I just found out that I am going to become a dad this year. I know that I will be the kind of role model my child needs. One day I will bring my kid to Taller San Jose and show him the place that gave me a second chance.

Help Taller San Jose give others the second chance I got by visiting and making a gift to provide real employment opportunities to youth through its social enterprise and general contracting company, Hope Builders, Inc.

***Hope Builders provides high-quality general contracting services for new and rehabilitated housing. Specializing in distressed properties and tailoring project timelines and budgets to the unique needs of that market, Hope Builders delivers the highest-quality craftsmanship and superior service to customers throughout Southern California.***