Deonte Lucas, 19 year old Detroit youth, wins prestigious award for his service with Detroit Youth Energy Squad
Just a few years ago, the future of Deonte Lucas, like those of many youth in Detroit, was uncertain at best. In a remarkable turnaround, Lucas, 19, shook hands with Governor Rick Snyder in accepting his award as the Youth Volunteer of the Year was selected from dozens of nominees whose achievements included starting organizations to help families in poverty, medical research and volunteering, and service to the homeless and the elderly. The awards were presented at the Gem Theater on July 23rd.
Lucas was nominated by staff from WARM Training Center and City Year Detroit, two organizations with which he served over 2,300 hours as an AmeriCorps member, from tutoring and mentoring elementary students to helping Detroit residents make their homes more energy efficient. “How Deonte has achieved all that he has is a tribute to his perseverance and his deep desire to help others,” said Justin Schott, who directs WARM’s Detroit Youth Energy Squad program (D-YES). “He has never let the adversity in his own life stand in the way of doing good. In fact, it has motivated him.”
Lucas’ story is one of overcoming ever-present challenges. At age 12, he became a caretaker for his mom after she had a stroke and spent a couple of years with relatives in Houston when his family could not afford basic necessities. At the first high school he attended, gang violence and shootings hit close to home and his grades slumped. Even during his service with D-YES, Lucas faced significant barriers, from having no transportation to work to experiencing a house fire. After accepting his award, Lucas expressed both his gratitude and his surprise that he had actually won. “It was heartwarming,” he reflected.
D-YES currently operates in four high schools in Detroit and engages students in projects including urban gardening, water conservation, recycling, improving vacant lots, and school greening initiatives, in which they learn about the green economy and environmental justice. The core of the program is helping residents save energy, upwards of $250 (10%) annually. Youth perform up to fifteen retrofits such as caulking, installing low-flow water fixtures, and insulating pipes. They also teach households to understand their energy bills and adopt energy-saving behaviors. In addition to building leadership, teamwork, and communication skills, D-YES crew members collectively earn about $30,000 annually in scholarships through AmeriCorps and the Michigan Community Service Commission. Over 80% of D-YES graduates go on to attend college.
For Lucas, Schott hopes the Governor’s Service Award is milestone on a path to more successes. Lucas plans to do another year with AmeriCorps while taking classes at Wayne State this year before attending Michigan State University in 2013, where he will study computer engineering.