Karen Pittman and John Valverde Reflect on the Opportunity Youth Movement

In a truly moving conversation, the Forum’s CEO and co-founder Karen Pittman sat down with newly appointed YouthBuild CEO John Valverde and discussed Valverde’s personal journey, the importance of trauma-informed support for opportunity youth, and the critical role of love in the YouthBuild work with young people.

Valverde’s personal story is one of overcoming incredible odds. After a difficult childhood, Valverde was sentenced to 30 years in prison for shooting his girlfriend’s rapist. While serving 16 years of that sentence, he was able to complete his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, teach college-level courses, develop workforce and vocational skills, and become the first incarcerated person to take the law school admission test in New York.

Valverde readily shares his story and has found that it resonates with the young people and partners that YouthBuild works with.  “From the first moment, I knew that what I did was wrong, but it was a long journey for me to accept full responsibility without rationalization, justification or excuse or blame,” he said. “I felt called to perhaps be a face for second chances and a voice for second chances.”

The conversation walked through his interviews for the YouthBuild CEO position, where he beat out 124 other candidates in a multi-month, multi-city process. Pittman serves as a board member for YouthBuild and was involved in the selection.

We strongly encourage you to listen to this recording and share broadly.