From Tearing Down to Building Up: One Former Gang Member's Story

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Six months ago, Dion Olbert never thought he'd be here, rebuilding a home in Buffalo's Kensington-Bailey neighborhood.

"It was an abandoned house. It was really wrecked in there," said Olbert. "We just starting tearing the walls down and building them back up. I've really been learning a lot here. I learn something new every day."

He's part of The Service Collaborative's YouthBuild program, which helps at-risk youth get their GED and learn valuable life skills.

"They're giving me a fighting chance. They're saying, 'You can do it.' They're with you every step of the way," said Olbert.

Not that long ago, Olbert walked the streets with a different attitude.

"I did a lot of bad stuff, selling drugs, illegal weapons and stuff like that, which I'm not proud of, but I'm proud to say I've changed. I never really had a fighting chance. Starting in 7th grade, I wasn't really good at school. I got kicked out a lot," said Olbert.

"I don't agree with no shootings and killings. I hate it. My son was murdered in 1991. I don't agree with it, but you can see what led these kids to where they're at," said Billie Webster, a Buffalo SNUG Violence Prevention Program supervisor.

That's why several community groups are targeting specific areas of Buffalo to help at-risk youth.

"You've got some individuals that have tension with individuals. There's a cultural paradigm that's at work that when you have individuals that feel pressed come from a culture that says, this is how we handle our business when I have a beef with someone," said Pastor James Giles, the Back to Basics Outreach Ministry president.

That culture is rearing its head in Buffalo. To date, there have been 15 homicides in Buffalo in 2016. That's compared to seven for the same time period in 2015 and on par with 2014

Despite those numbers, outreach workers say their efforts are working and they have saved people, like Dion Olbert.

"It feels great because it means that one less mother don't have to worry about watching her son laying on the ground with that tape around him," said Webster.

Anti-violence advocates say training programs for these youth are key to give them skills to succeed off the streets. 

"It feels real special because I'm from around here. To beat up a neighborhood then rebuilt it, it's really special," said Olbert.

As for Dion Olbert, he earned his GED and hopes to one day own a construction business to help rebuild his community. 

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