John Valverde: The CEO Of Second Chances

Every year, about 8,000 young people, who have left high school without a diploma, find their way to John Valverde’s organization looking for a second chance. A third have already been involved in the criminal justice system. But Valverde knows these young people are more than the crimes they have committed or the abuse they’ve endured. He is interested in turning the page with them, and asking them: What else is true? “They’re struggling to find the way to have hope in the future, but they want more for themselves,” Valverde says. “That’s what else is true here. That they are more than their circumstances. They really can achieve anything in life if they have opportunity and adult support.”

Over a year ago, Valverde took over as CEO of YouthBuild USA from Dorothy Stoneman, the “force” who founded the nonprofit forty years ago. It offers education, counseling and job training to young people who are living in poverty across the US and around the globe. This is a need that Valverde understands. He was raised by a single mom in Queens, New York. Estranged from his father, they struggled financially. At 20, he was convicted of manslaughter after killing a man who had allegedly raped his girlfriend. “I can never change what happened but maybe I can make amends, little by little, for the rest of my life.” Valverde sees his work at YouthBuild as one way to do that. “To be a leader of a second chance program, living out my own second chance, is pretty amazing.”

In a new occasional series about the thorny situations nonprofit leaders face and how they try to overcome them, Valverde describes what he learned about leadership during his 16 years in prison. He discusses the challenges of taking over from an organization’s founder after nearly forty years. And he talks about what it means to be a leader of lived experience. “At first, I was really sad to hear that there weren’t others with criminal backgrounds who have been able to rise to this level,” he says. “But I feel that [my success] has much less meaning if it doesn’t inspire young people to believe that they can live into futures they never imagined were possible, and and if it doesn’t inspire society to believe in second chances.”

Additional Resources:

About Youthbuild

Karen Pittman interview: Thought Leader Roundtable: Reflections on the Opportunity Youth Movement

The New York Times: Saying Goodbye After Teaching Young People to Build Confidence, and Homes

Featured Image: John Valverde

6 Comments

  1. Abby

    Amy – I so appreciated listening to this interview – thank you!

  2. Nancy Steed

    John Valverde touched my life from the first moment I met him when volunteering at Sing Sing Prison in the 90s. As I sat next to him, I could not help but notice that there was something about him that was inspiring and engaging, How thrilling it has been to see him soar and his extraordinary gifts be recognized. If we are put here on earth to make a difference, which I firmly believe, John is making an incredible difference and touching lives in profound ways. It is an honor to know him and witness his successes in life. They are earned and deserved.

  3. John Valverde is a national leader for Second Chances, he’s a good, decent person, and he represents the best of his generation.

  4. Nelson Cordova

    Hi to all. My name is Nelson Cordova. I can testify on behalf of a great friend and brother of mines from another mother. I know John and bear witness to the conviction, hard work and devotion he dedicates to his life, family, friends,strangers,and his work. All who come in contact with John are touched by his humble spirit and calm manner. He’s still my role model after all these years of friendship. If I had a son and needed someone to encourage and lift up my sons spirit and life I would without a doubt call upon John Valverde to give me a helping hand.

    • Amy

      Wonderful to hear this testimony from someone who knows Mr. Valverde personally. Many of the qualities you describe came through in the interview and I’m glad to hear it confirmed in your note. Thank you for writing!

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