Today, Billy Palmer is a respected resident of Utah’s largest city, vice president of NeighborWorks Salt Lake’s board of directors, and on track to becoming its president. But he wasn’t always so distinguished. His first contact with NWSL was at the age of 16, and it was court-mandated. "My dad wasn’t around; it was my mom, me, four siblings and two cousins, moving around a lot. We were well below the poverty line and frequently homeless, sometimes living in a car for weeks at a time. I went to 14 different grade schools,” recalls Billy. “I ended up truant, drinking, committing petty crimes, dealing drugs."
Fortunately for Billy, he had a probation officer who believed he could “take a turn for the good” and drove him right from a court hearing to NeighborWorks Salt Lake and its YouthWorks program. Designed for troubled youth ages 14-18, YouthWorks trains kids in employment and life skills and in return for a stipend, puts them to work on projects that revitalize and beautify the community.
“I want to do everything possible to help others change their life direction like I did.”
“Our project was to build a house from the ground up for a family in need,” he says. “The cheaper and more efficient we could be, the less expensive the house would be for the family. I realized that someone much like my own family would directly benefit from my work. That’s when it all clicked for me.”
After six months, Billy “graduated.” Later, he landed a job scouting locations and supervising prop construction for two popular TV shows: Touched by an Angel and Promised Land ̶ both shot in Salt Lake City.
One day, Billy ran into his former YouthWorks mentor, Maria Garciaz, by then executive director. She invited Palmer to share his success story with current YouthWorks participants and, loving it, he decided to devote himself full time to the program. From 2003-2005, Palmer worked as a YouthWorks construction site supervisor.
Although Billy later left for another job, he stayed involved. In 2010, he was appointed to the board of directors and in 2013, he was the organizing force behind one of NeighborWorks Salt Lake’s most successful events ̶ a commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the filming of the iconic movie shot in Salt Lake City, “The Sandlot.” More than 1,500 people attended, 50 percent of whom were from elsewhere in the city.
Today, Billy serves as chair of the YouthWorks committee for the NeighborWorks Salt Lake board.
“I want to do everything possible to help others change their life direction like I did,” he says.
From troubled youth to community leader
Meet Billy Palmer, one of seven winners of our 2015 Dorothy Richardson Resident Leadership Award, who used his experience asa troubled youth to inspire others and help build homes for low-income families in Utah.