In 2023 Peckham – along with several partnering organizations – were awarded a $2 million grant from the United States Department of Labor. The grant was used to launch the Growth Opportunities (GO) Program, which aims to prepare corrections-involved youth and young adults for employment while also mitigating violence in the high-poverty, high-crime communities of Lansing and Flint, MI.

Austin is one of the GO program participants whose lives have been improved by the knowledge, experience, and relationships provided by the program.

Austin Letts was born and grew up in Lansing, Michigan, one among thousands of teens attending high school in 2020. And like his peers, COVID and the lockdowns that followed changed his life. However, the changes and heartache he experienced were several degrees more traumatic than most. “My mom passed away (during) my tenth year of high school,” Austin explained. As a result, he stopped going to school and began drifting in what he understands now to be the wrong direction.

With his dad having been in and out of his life a lot during his formative years, Austin said his mom was “pretty much the mom and the dad.” After her passing, he found himself a 16-year-old filled with confusion and not much hope for living the “regular” life of a teenager. Instead, he fell in with the wrong crowd, getting into trouble and realizing that he was headed toward a life that his mom wouldn’t have wanted. “She wanted me to be successful in life,” he said, “Not tear myself apart.”

With this thought in mind, Austin returned to school. For about a month, things went well — straight A’s, perfect attendance. But then, what he described as a “miscommunication” resulted in Austin spending 54 days in the youth center. Not long after that, his father passed away from a drug overdose, adding to the growing list of trials and tribulations that culminated in him being involved in situations “that I never should have been in.”

Following his stint in the youth center, Austin’s probation officer referred him to his first Peckham program. This led him to proactively reach out and inquire about the Growth Opportunity (GO) program, an at-the-time new program for at-risk 18–24-year-olds in the Lansing and Flint communities. He said, “I was looking for opportunities. I was going through a hard time in my life and needed some motivation… some people in my corner to help me see the light.”

One of those people turned out to be GO specialist Tony Clay, who Austin called one of his favorite people he’s ever met. Along with Clay’s assistant, the six weeks of classes that kicked off the program proved invaluable to Austin. In his opinion, if the information they taught in the GO program, which includes financial literacy and cognitive behavior training, was taught in schools, “it would help a lot of people out.”

Before his mom passed away, she told Austin that if things got too crazy as a result of COVID, she wanted him to investigate learning a trade skill. This advice, coupled with a lifelong interest in things of an electrical nature, led him to seek out and earn an apprenticeship at a local electrical contracting company. His experience confirmed his interest and adeptness in the industry, and today, Austin is looking forward to part-time and perhaps full-time work at the company, work which he’s confident will lead to a successful and fulfilling career as an electrician.

Austin credits the GO Program and the people in his cohort for moving him in the right direction and giving him a new-found confidence that portends great things ahead. Whereas growing up, he didn’t hear “I’m proud of you” much, if at all, he said that in the past few months, he’s heard it more and more. He appreciates all that Peckham has done for him along the way, a way which appears to be growing brighter and brighter with each passing day.



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