Anthony Royster is on top of the world – literally as an iron worker stationed on the Verrazano Bridge, and figuratively with a happy and loving family at home – but it wasn’t always this way.

Anthony grew up in a single-parent home in Wyandanch, with an older sister and two younger brothers where physical and mental abuse was commonplace. Without positive role models in his life, he searched for an escape, but was led down the wrong path where he was later arrested and incarcerated.

Upon his release, Anthony realized he needed to turn his life around. He had heard about United Way of Long Island’s YouthBuild program from a cousin who had participated and successfully graduated, and the timing couldn’t have been better. In an effort to build a better life for himself, as well as his soon-to-be-born daughter, he decided to take a positive step and enroll. “I wanted to do something with myself, and become the man I always knew I should be,” Anthony explained.

With a new found sense of self and determination, Anthony completed the program in December of 2014, and graduated in June of 2015 when he earned his high school equivalency diploma. It took four attempts to reach this milestone goal, but his experience in YouthBuild taught him the importance of perseverance, and he never gave up.

As a single father raising his young daughter, Anthony moved to North Carolina in April of 2015 and worked alongside his grandfather at a cab stand. This opportunity, along with his learnings from YouthBuild, put into practice the value of hard work and what comes with having a steady and reliable job. He moved back to New York that September, when he learned about United Way partner organization Opportunities Long Island, an intensive pre-apprenticeship training program that provides direct-entry into the local union. He completed his training program and graduated in April, quickly securing a new career working as an iron worker apprentice for Local 361 Union Structural Iron workers on the Verrazano Bridge.

These days, Anthony’s life is full of promise. He comes home each day to his wife Nadia, her daughter Laila and his daughter Mia who are both two years old and the best of friends. He has ambitions to further his education, own his own business and buy a home for his family.

“I am a man now, before I was a young boy looking out for only myself,” he says. “YouthBuild helped me get out of my comfort zone and I am a better man, a better husband, a better father looking to help my community in the best way possible. I’m still growing and have things I need to work on, but I’d like to speak to the students and people who are struggling around me and tell them that nothing is handed to you. You have to put in the extra effort, you have to want to change the cycle of negativity.”

It’s important to Anthony that he be the role model he never had as a young man. He adds “Be patient – patience saves you. Reach out to positive people, YouthBuild is full of positive individuals and they are all role models. Change is your responsibility – make your mother proud, your little siblings proud, your kids proud. When you get knocked down, all you can do is get back up and keep going.”

Anthony may work with iron and steel, but with his heart of gold the possibilities are endless.