YouthBuild Philly Annual BBQ (2021)

After more than a year of isolation and practicing social distance, YouthBuild Philly was excited for the return of its annual YB Philly BBQ. The event took place on Friday, September 24, at the historic Lemon Hill Park for the first time since 2019 due to the pandemic. The BBQ traditionally is held annually at the beginning of the school year and invites staff and students to attend. The YB Philly BBQ is a special moment for YouthBuild, as it allows both students and staff to connect 1-on-1 over food, music, and fun while getting to know each other.

Special thanks to our resident Chef’s Mr. Paul and Mr. Frank, as the official grill masters for the event! Together they prepared a delicious and hearty spread of tasty eats for everyone. Menu items included beef and veggies burgers, hotdogs, a variety of potato chips, and assorted beverages.

A highlight of this year’s event was the popcorn and snow cone stations in addition to live caricature drawings. Other fun activities included double-dutch, Jumbo Jenga, connect four, football, and a friendly game of spades amongst the students and staff. From a very competitive hula hoop contest to the student vs. staff basketball game, it was truly an exciting fun-filled day!

The afternoon was topped off with a mix of live music provided by our very own in-house DJ and Director of Student Life Ms. Zuri Stone. Shout out to the Class of 2022 for showing up and showing out – It was great to see people smiling, laughing, and genuinely having a great time.

Thank you to all that were involved in making the BBQ a huge success. We are looking forward to next year’s event already.

– YB Philly!

Class of 2022 Mental Toughness Training

After more than a year of virtual learning, YouthBuild Philly was excited to reopen its doors and hold its annual Student Mental Toughness Training (MTT) for the 2021-22 school year. We invited nearly 300 applicants to join us for this year’s training, which ran from August 30 to September 3.

Day 1 of Student Mental Toughness Training, applicants lined up outside of the school and awaited entry

For background, MTT is a 5-day workshop series that constitutes the final step in the YouthBuild admissions process. Applicants are expected to show up on time every day and participate in the workshops, which provide an overview of YouthBuild’s climate, culture, and program.

Kali Thomas, YB Success Coordinator (Right)

Although this year’s MTT looked and felt slightly different, we were certainly thrilled to be back in-person. That meant implementing safety measures such as mask mandates, social distancing, and reducing class sizes to ensure our school remained clean, healthy, and OPEN!

Session 1 of Mental Toughness Training

With these new regulations in place, MTT was a complete success and went off without a hitch! We hosted scavenger hunts, visited vocation worksites, and played exciting trivia games with YB Philly staff.

Applicants visited our GreenBuild worksite – North Philadelphia Peace Park
Applicants visited Warehouse On Watts

The pandemic tried to throw a wrench into our plans this year but was unsuccessful. Instead, it has helped us to reimagine the structure of MTT as we know it and tailor it to continue meeting the needs of our students.

Congratulations and good luck to the Class of 2022!

You’ve got this!

Until next year,

YB Philly!

From Virtual to In-person: 2021 Graduation

August 27, 2021 – On August 20, YouthBuild Philly held its 29th annual graduation ceremony at the historic Dell Music Center where we celebrated the accomplishments of 144 young adults. This year’s graduation was special as it marked the end of an unprecedented academic year, and our first full-fledged in-person commencement ceremony since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the inclement weather conditions, the rain failed to dampen the spirits of our graduates and their guests. For the first time ever the Class of 2021 was able to meet, laugh, and celebrate with their peers and teachers face to face.

Class of 2021 (Left to Right), Zuri Stone, YouthBuild Philly Director of Student Life (Center)

Each of these young adults demonstrated YouthBuild Philly’s core values of Perseverance, Excellence, and Respect from the first day of Mental Toughness Training all the way through graduation. As students walked across the stage to receive their diplomas, they were cheered on by an audience of more than 1,000 socially-distanced guests comprised of their families, friends, YouthBuild staff, and supporters. 

Class of 2021 Valedictorian Mel Osborn

Highlights of this year’s ceremony were student speakers, Class of 2021 Valedictorian Mel Osborn, Salutatorian Angie Velez, and the John Gallery Leadership Award winner Imeerah Tinsley, who each provided their fellow graduates with well-earned words of affirmation, encouragement, and inspiration. This moment also served as an opportunity for us to recognize and celebrate our 2021 Staff Honoree Anthony Smith, YouthBuild Philly social studies teacher, for his dedication to education, our school, and his passion for developing the next generation of leaders.

Anthony Smith, YouthBuild Philly social studies teacher

Graduation is always a proud moment for the YouthBuild Philly community. It celebrates the accomplishments and perseverance of our students, and their commitment to reclaim their education. This year in particular challenged our students and staff in many ways, but also inspired them to adapt to change and think creatively. We are truly thankful to the Class of 2021 for their patience and diligence, despite the many obstacles they faced. 


We are so proud!

Congratulations to the Class of 2021, you are officially #YBMade! 



“21 Days of Reflection”

As YouthBuild’s Class of 2021 nears their August graduation date, we’re excited to share a student-created ’21 Days of Reflection’ project with our community. A select group of student leaders identified a number of excerpts from their peers’ Personal Power Reflections, assignments completed throughout the year that encouraged students to reflect on their growth as learners, emphasizing how the skills they learned in various classes will guide them in their future educational and professional settings.

This reflection project was the vision of YouthBuild Philly’s AmeriCorps VISTA tutors, a group of three Class of 2021 members who supported and encouraged their peers to complete all graduation requirements. As these young leaders worked more closely with their peers, they were inspired to create a tribute to the Class of 2021’s Perseverance, Excellence and Respect.

The gallery below will update with all reflections and images as they’re shared – keep on eye on YouthBuild Philly’s Instagram page for highlights and videos as well!

Quotes with Illustrations

Help Others Be #inspiredbyyb

Help others be #InspiredbyYB! DONATE TODAY.

Since March, YouthBuild Philly’s core values of Respect, Excellence and Perseverance have been tried and tested in so many different ways, but our staff and Board members – and above all our alumni and students – have risen to these challenges and continued to show up and show out as leaders. This past September, we celebrated 144 graduates in a socially-distant, highly-personalized ceremony at Bartram’s Garden – where we also started the year with our first all-school service project. Less than a week later, we held our first-ever virtual mental toughness training for an incoming class of 181 amazing and talented young people, and also enrolled another 47 students during a November enrollment period. The work that went into these accomplishments has been monumental – and required constant energy, motivation, and inspiration. 

This year’s graduates and our newly-enrolled Class of 2021 join close to 3,000 young leaders from across Philadelphia who have been #InspiredbyYB – encouraged to make positive changes in their own lives and communities. Our two featured alumni, Alex (2012) and Roland (2017), have used art and music respectively to instill positive change – both directly in their work, and in their support of others pursuing their dreams. Young people like Alex and Roland perfectly exemplify YouthBuild’s mission commitment to develop “critically conscious leaders.”

Since our founding, YouthBuild Philly students have dedicated more than 1,000,000 hours of community service collectively as AmeriCorps members. Hundreds of graduates have remained committed to this service ethic by organizing and working with local labor organizations, supporting grassroots efforts to end police brutality and community violence, serving with faith-based communities, and so much more. Our 2020 graduates and Class of 2021 enrollees find themselves in a unique position. As learners in virtual environments, YouthBuild students and graduates have a unique and important perspective on access to technology and distribution of resources across our City.

YouthBuild’s strong emphasis on data has included regular surveys of students to better align our instructional practices with student needs, while also creating ways for students to socialize in safe and socially distant environments. We have also relied on local and regional public health data to make difficult but necessary decisions surrounding our ability to reopen our physical school building for regular in-person instruction, and hope to do so as we begin the 2021 calendar year. As we prepare to make this transition, while continuing to serve our students and alumni with full-time instruction and mentorship, we need your support!

Your gift to YouthBuild this year will allow us to continue to serve the Class of 2021 and beyond as they engage as leaders in their community. Investments in our school directly impact a new generation of talented young people inspired, motivated and ready to lead. Gifts to this year’s #InspiredbyYB campaign will help to provide:

  • a safe return to school – classroom, worksite, and community service sites – for members of our Class of 2021
  • supplies and protective equipment to ensure the continued health and safety of our community
  • direct need-based grants to help students address ongoing out-of-school challenges such as housing, transportation, child care, and medical expenses
  • clubs and elective courses designed to build on students’ strengths in areas like creative writing, filmmaking, music production, art, robotics and more
  • continued development of cultural literacy and social identities training for students, staff and partners
  • enrichment opportunities such as meet-and-greets with local activists or elected officials, trips to local and regional museums, and conventions/trade shows for professional development and networking
  • college and trade school scholarships to offset the financial burdens of higher education

As YouthBuild Philly has faced some of its biggest challenges in recent memory, we’ve trusted in and relied on the same North Star that has guided us for nearly three decades: the power and promise of young people. We appreciate your ongoing support for our school, and we hope that you will consider a financial gift to YouthBuild this year to provide inspiration for a new generation of learners and leaders.

Any contribution that you make to YouthBuild Philly has a direct impact on the young people that we serve, and is greatly appreciated. Please visit our online donation page to make your gift today – first-time gifts to our school average around $100. We also offer monthly giving options if this better suits your situation – sustained gifts allow us to cut down on administrative time and better serve our students. If you have any questions about what your gift will mean for the school, please feel free to contact our Individual Giving Manager, Theo Molloy.

Thank you very much for your continued support of YouthBuild Philly. We wish you and your family good health, and hope to see you at a YouthBuild event when it is safe to do so.

In solidarity,

Scott Emerick

Executive Director


Help others be #InspiredbyYB! DONATE today.

Since 1992, YouthBuild Philly has fostered a supportive environment focused on personal development for young people, anchored by a commitment to community. Through large group efforts to individual projects – and all sizes and forms in between – nearly 3,000 young people have completed over one million hours of community service across Philadelphia. Beyond their year of service at YouthBuild, hundreds of our graduates have been inspired by their experiences at YouthBuild to continue to make change in their communities – hence this year’s campaign theme, #InspiredbyYB.

In any given year, more than half of YouthBuild Philly applicants discover the school from a family member or friend who is attending or has previously attended. This amounts to over 100 students every year inspiring those closest to them to change their lives.

This inspiration also shines brightly in young people committed to social change, including the dozens of YouthBuild students and alumni who took to the streets this summer and fall to protest against inequity and injustice in their communities and around the country.

Young people can also provide inspiration by using their talents to create impact across their communities, such as the two young artists featured in this brochure – Alex (Class of 2012) and Roland (Class of 2017). Across various media, these artists have spread messages of love and hope not only in their own recorded work, but also in their actions. Alex (aka Arekusn)’s work has been featured in various galleries throughout the Philadelphia area, as well as welcomed visitors to Philadelphia with a display at Philadelphia International Airport. Roland (aka Rated R) has found success as a performer, writer and producer, playing dozens of concerts at some of Philadelphia’s most well-known venues – but is proudest of his work as a studio owner and engineer, mentoring many up-and-coming artists from across the city. When asked to reflect on the experiences that led them to their current success, both pointed to the community at YouthBuild as inspiring their creative passions. Alex and Roland are just two examples of past, current and future YouthBuild students to be #inspiredbyYB.


Alex, Class of 2012

Alex (Class of 2012) describes himself as being “really depressed and dealing with social anxiety” prior to his enrollment at YouthBuild. Being one of the only Asian-American students in his class – as well as openly transitioning genders – initially created some alienation from his peers. When he told a staff member during mental toughness that he wasn’t sure he would continue at the school, he was told “we will be there for you – you’re not facing any of this alone.” With this support, Alex was able to thrive in every way while at YouthBuild and beyond.

Early on, he opted out of some more socially-inclined school activities and events, but eventually gained confidence through conversations with counselors and other staff members, as well as gaining inspiration from schoolwide meetings. “Mr. Ameen just brought so much energy; he really helped me to recognize my broader impact.” As part of the healthcare track, Alex also got to meet many professionals and guest lecturers, including one who had a significant impact on his values – a relationship he maintains to this day. “YouthBuild helped me with my confidence and showed me it was OK to take risks – I continue to give back to others through my experience and what has been fostered in me.”

Inspiration for Alex came when he was able to attend his first college class in graphic design through YouthBuild’s dual enrollment partnership. An avid art hobbyist, Alex says “the class was my first introduction to graphic design; I got an A in it, and it made me want to focus more on my art.” Starting to become a bit more comfortable in social settings, Alex was introduced by a partner to “a group of artists, rappers and musicians” who helped to push his boundaries creatively and impacted his art and career decisions. “At that point, I switched my college major from liberal studies to graphic design.” This past Spring, after attending school while working full-time, Alex earned his Associate’s Degree in Graphic Design, and will continue towards his Bachelor’s at University of the Arts once it is safe to do so in person. 

He continues to work as an artist under the name Arekusn, and recently had a piece called “Love, Peace and Soul” displayed as part of a local artist exhibition at Philadelphia International Airport. “The piece incorporates a lot of color and patterns, and was inspired by my personal motto – keep hope, faith and love alive. All of those values would make the world a better place.” In addition to graphic design, he’s also branched out into photography and continues to support fellow artists and strive for social justice through his work, including helping to design this year’s brochure and other campaign elements.


Roland, Class of 2017

How Roland (Class of 2017) started at YouthBuild was a bit of a blur. “I don’t even remember applying – I just got the invitation to visit, and took advantage of the opportunity.” At previous schools, he had never felt challenged academically, and as a result, sometimes fell in with “the wrong kind of people.” He left school, but always felt like not having a diploma was “something that held me back.” When he came to YouthBuild, things started to change.

Self-described as someone who “was never a social person,” Roland very early on latched on to a quote from the school’s Director of Student Life, who encouraged students to “become comfortable with being uncomfortable.” This, in part, provided inspiration for Roland to reconnect with his passion for music and performing. Despite “not talking to anyone” early in the year, Roland proudly and confidently shared his “I Am From…” poem with classmates, and quickly reinvigorated himself to get back to writing and performing.

A veteran of Philadelphia’s youth slam poetry circuit, it had been years since Roland had performed in front of an audience like that. But he joined YouthBuild’s music club and began to write, collaborate and perform again – including at his own graduation ceremony. “I never in a million years thought I’d be performing at something like that – it was my most meaningful performance;” he remembers – humbly, coming from someone who’s performed dozens of shows at some of Philly’s most famous venues.

Since that time, Roland has continued to write, record and perform – but has also been working as a producer and engineer, and is putting the finishing touches on his own recording studio. “I’m going to call it Home, because it’s designed to feel that way.” The studio will also be a pathway for Roland to mentor and support younger artists, providing a refuge for them in addition to inspiring their own careers – “My mentor got to know me as a friend and helped me grow as a person – I want to do the same for others still coming up. I’ve just lost too many people who didn’t have anywhere to go; but I’ve also met so many young artists and welcomed them to this family.” 

Help hundreds more students become #InspiredbyYB for years to come!

a Socially distanced celebration

September 4, 2020– Every year YouthBuild Philly comes together to celebrate hundreds of graduates for their hard work and dedication. This year was no different, except due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the celebration required a bit more distance than usual. In true YouthBuild fashion, staff, students, family and loved ones came together masked and ready to congratulate 144 graduates of the Class of 2020 on accomplishing this major milestone at a socially distanced outdoor ceremony at Bartram’s Garden.

In a car parade procession, each graduate was greeted with a personalized introduction on a red carpet surrounded by staff cheering with decorated signs as they marched to the stage for their diploma.

Graduates’ families and loved ones applauded and cheered them on every step of the way.

After receiving their diploma, graduates had a photo op to capture their special moment immediately after receiving their diploma.

Graduation caps were a highlight.

The Class of 2020 graduation will be one to remember for years to come. Even though COVID-19 derailed our graduation plans in a traditional sense, it did not stop us from celebrating the most resilient class to walk through the doors of YouthBuild Philly. Congratulations Class of 2020!

See below for a slideshow of more photos from the ceremony:

Class of 2020 Valedictorian, Jordan Jackson finished the year with high honors and 90% attendance. See below for some remarks and words of wisdom from Jordan to fellow graduates and future applicants:

Black lives matter, now and always

Dear YouthBuild Philly Supporters:

ALL Black Lives Matter in our school, in our community and in our world. This truth is foundational to our shared YouthBuild community and to our shared humanity. 

This has been a very intense and traumatic time for YouthBuild Philly, especially as our community cannot physically connect to embrace and affirm each other as we mourn the loss of life, celebrate the work of advocates, and fight together against injustice. Nonetheless, we remain committed to our core values of Respect, Excellence and Perseverance. Our core values will ground our work as a school and our work against racism. Racist systems were built by people. New equitable systems must be rebuilt by people in communities like ours and by leaders like the young people graduating from YouthBuild.

YouthBuild Philly students, alumni, staff, Board of Trustees and partners represent a range of racial and social identities. For 28 years in Philly and for 42 years globally, the YouthBuild movement has been committed to racial equity from our earliest roots in the Civil Rights Movement; however, we have much more work to do to become much more actively anti-racist. 

While our social identity work considers a range of intersecting identities (gender, race, class, sexuality, ability, etc.), we have prioritized conversations about race and racism. Approximately 90 percent of the 2020 graduating class of YouthBuild Philly identifies as Black, with 99 percent of our overall enrollment identifying as persons of color. Our work as educators and as learners is to more directly fight against the racism that traumatizes our students and perpetuates white supremacy. Anti-racism work must be central in our classrooms, on our worksites, in our service activities and with all of our partners.

Over the last three years, our internal social identities working group (11 staff members representing all YouthBuild departments) has helped lead our work on race and identity focused on three primary goals:

  • Developing shared language and common frameworks for continuing conversations about how our social identities and the systems that shape our society impact our work.
  • Preparing staff to have conversations with students and alumni about how social identities impact their journey at YouthBuild and especially with partners.
  • Staying grounded in the original vision of YouthBuild, which focuses on social justice.

We will continue to improve our racial literacy in ways that improve our relationships with students, our instructional practices, our curriculum, our restorative practices, our partnerships with employers and postsecondary institutions and our internal human resource practices. Toward that end, candidates for positions at YouthBuild Philly will participate in specific interviews focused on our social identities priorities. Onboarding and performance review processes will more explicitly and consistently focus on our social identities priorities, in addition to an on-going assessment of our workplace practices to ensure alignment with these priorities.

Our work toward justice, equity and anti-racism has not been perfect and is certainly not anywhere near complete. We’ve benefited greatly from close collaboration with The Lion’s Story, an organization committed to expanding literacy around social identities and dismantling systemic racial oppression. This work is not only about becoming better educators, but also about becoming better human beings.

As we all mourn together the tragedy of thousands of Black people murdered in and by a racist system, YouthBuild Philly strongly encourages our supporters to educate themselves and take action against racism in America, because racism is EVERYONE’S problem

Thank you for joining us in the fight against racism.

In Solidarity,

YouthBuild Philadelphia Senior Leadership Team
Scott Emerick, Executive Director
Adesanya Karade, Chief Finance & Operations Officer
Meredith Molloy, Chief Development Officer
Dannyelle Austin, Senior Program Director
Tiffany Doyle, Senior Human Resources Director

YouthBuild Philadelphia Executive Committee, Board of Trustees
Melanie McCottry, Chair, Board of Trustees
Marty Brigham, Vice-Chair, Board of Trustees
Khalilah Lawson, Chair, Governance Committee, Board of Trustees
Jim Mergiotti, Chair, Finance Committee, Board of Trustees
David Thomas, Chair, Program Committee, Board of Trustees
Nicole Connell, Secretary, Board of Trustees
Kiley Smith Kelly, Chair, Fundraising Committee, Board of Trustees

A Letter from Our Executive Director

Dear YouthBuild Philadelphia Community Members and Friends:

Internationally and now in our region, the spread of COVID-19 has caused great concern for public health and education systems. YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School has closely monitored the health and safety of our school community. We are thankful to report that there have been no known cases among our students, staff or alumni.

In coordination with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Philadelphia Department of Health and Human Services, and The School District of Philadelphia, YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School has made the determination to close our physical school building through at least June 18, 2020.

To continue to support our students and ensure they remain on track for graduation, we have made some adjustments to our school calendar and instructional model during this two week period. YouthBuild Philadelphia’s Spring Break, originally scheduled for April 6-10, has been rescheduled for March 16-20. Beginning on March 23, students will have access to daily live video instruction led by academic teachers and workforce development instructors. Those who are unable to participate in this instruction due to technology limitations will be provided independent work packets and reading. 

All elective courses, extracurricular activities, school-sponsored trips, and service events during this time have been postponed indefinitely or canceled. Students will continue to receive attendance credit on days that they participate in virtual instruction, and their AmeriCorps service terms will be put on hold for the duration of this virtual learning period.

Students facing barriers or challenges will be provided with a list of resources to aid in barrier removal and success during this time. To the extent possible, we will continue to provide mental health services, financial supports, food access, transportation and other support services throughout the time our building is closed.

Click link below to view our Continuity of Education Plan:

Our decision to close was not made lightly. We have been in constant direct contact with public health and education officials across the city and state, and are following the lead of The Philadelphia School District and Pennsylvania Department of Education in making this determination.

Finally, we encourage those impacted or potentially impacted by the spread of COVID-19 to take necessary precautions to maintain a healthy community: practice good personal hygiene by washing or sanitizing hands, avoid large gatherings and confined spaces, and avoid social interaction altogether if you are sick. For a full list of recommendations for avoiding COVID-19 exposure, please visit The City of Philadelphia’s COVID-19 resource page. We will continue to monitor COVID-19 and will provide any significant updates when relevant. 

Thank you very much for your support of YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School. We appreciate your commitment to our program, and your understanding as we navigate this pressing public health concern.


Scott Emerick
Executive Director
YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School

2nd Annual Student Showcase

March 4— YouthBuild Philly hosted our 2nd Annual Student Showcase as a chance for students to share their gifts, talents and lessons learned throughout the school year with a community of new and long-time supporters of YouthBuild. Our Class of 2020 took full ownership of the showcase with an action-packed agenda created, hosted and led by them.

The show opened up with an energetic welcome from three hosts of the evening: Kaeem Baker, Ana Cortes and Joe Miller. Each host commanded the audience’s attention with their quick wit and charisma in between each performance.

Some show highlights included:

Jordan Jackson’s presentation of her Senior Project on her career aspiration of being a cosmetologist, a project she has been working on for weeks. During her presentation she visually displayed the process that goes into creating a styled wig cap. Through her presentation, the audience learned more about her cosmetology journey and the art and science behind various hairstyles.

Nicolas Bailey’s presentation of his personal art collection left the audience nothing short of impressed. He also shared about his most recent victory claiming 2nd place in individual and team standings in a K-12 open Checkmate Violence tournament hosted by Philly After School Activities Partnerships (ASAP). Nick also encouraged the audience to continuously jump out of their comfort zones and learn something new. “If you want to learn something new, try and learn something new,” says Nicholas.

Timir Hennie presented a memoir from his Language Arts class recounting a post-incarceration experience. Timir also shared a film from his film-making enrichment class with collaborative partner, Big Picture Alliance. The film showcased the storytelling and creative skills of Timir and his classmates.

GreenBuild students Chad Hardy, Imir Gadson, and Hamir Farris took the audience on a mini-walking tour to showcase all that they are learning about the green building industry in class with Mr. George.

Ana Cortes did a freehand painting to a song that she wrote and pre-recorded herself!

Shantell shared personal artwork that complimented her “Where I’m From” poem from Language Arts class that she recited to explain her experience as a resident of Philadelphia.

Display of paintings from Arts Expression Class led by YB staff members Ms. Aletta and Ms. Nina:

YouthBuild Philly Board Member and Fundraising Committee Chair, Kiley Smith Kelly, closed out the show with a big “thank you” to everyone that came out to support and made the evening a success!

The evening ended with a post-show opportunity for students to mingle and network with all guests in attendance.

See slideshow below for more photos from the event:

Shout out to the Class of 2020 for inspiring us all to be lifelong learners!

If you were not able to join us for this wonderful evening, but still would like to support YouthBuild students, click here to donate! All proceeds will directly benefit student enrichment activities.