By Lisa Hughes

BOSTON (CBS) – Fifteen Boston graduates are celebrating a new beginning, free of drugs and violence and defined by accomplishment and work.

They’re graduates of Operation Exit, a program out of the mayor’s office that trains at-risk men and women for careers in the building trades and also helps them rebuild their lives.

Donan Cosme calls graduating from Operation Exit his greatest accomplishment since high school; and even more meaningful with his three children, cheering him on.

Programs offering alternatives to crime and drugs.

“I lost a lot of friends throughout my life, to violence,” Cosme says, “So I said you know what, this is my ticket out of here. This is my second chance.”

Cosme’s parole officer told him about Operation Exit, and he jumped in. Now, he’s planning to work installing sprinkler systems in high-rises.

“My last jobs were jobs. This is a career. This is a lifetime thing,” Cosme says. “At least here now I know I’m going to be able to make it home to my children. And them knowing that dad is doing something positive.”

Participants commit to an intensive three-and-a-half week paid program. They must be on time, every day, do the coursework and pass a drug test.

Laneisha Bland is one of two women graduating.

Laneisha Bland (WBZ-TV)

Laneisha Bland (WBZ-TV)

What was she dong before this? “Nothing at all,” Laeneisha said laughing. “Sleeping all day. Sleeping.”

With Operation Exit, she woke up.

“I can see myself moving forward, learning more, meeting new people. Doing different things,” she says.

Like welding. Bland didn’t know what that was a month ago. Now, she’s ready to start a five-year program as an apprentice.

“I’m ready to move to the next step,” Bland says.

“It gives me a big opportunity because if I can do it, somebody else can know they can do it. and then, the next, they tell somebody else that they can do it. And it’s opening up doors.”

Operation Exit is a partnership between the mayor’s office, Youth Options Unlimited Boston and building trades.

Union leaders will meet with the graduates every Monday until each one of them has a job. This is the program’s second session. Bland and Cosme are co-class presidents.

For more information visit: YouBoston.org

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