Class of 2019: November Graduation

November 25, 2019—YouthBuild Philly celebrated our most recent graduating class of 29 students with a commencement ceremony at Zion Baptist Church. November graduates have shown remarkable perseverance throughout the school year and are a true testament to YouthBuild Philly’s core values of Respect, Excellence, and Perseverance. 

The event was attended by staff members, loved ones and supporters who were thrilled to celebrate this major milestone with the graduates. The ceremony kicked off with opening remarks from the Director of Student Life, Zuri Stone, and Executive Director, Scott Emerick. 

Following these remarks, four graduates who were voted on by staff and fellow students received special awards, the REP awards and the YB Way award. The REP awards are given to students who personify the core values of YouthBuild. 

The Respect Award was given to Jamile Walker for demonstrating high regard for the opinions of others, the Excellence Award was given to Erica Wiggins for demonstrating work of outstanding quality, and the Perseverance Award was given to Jamilliah Willis for demonstrating the ability to not give up easily, and to pursue success despite opposition or discouragement. The YouthBuild Way Award is given to a student who cooperates with other students and is willing to work together towards a common goal. This year, the YB Way award was given to Jadah Celestine who was also voted on by her peers to be the student speaker. 

The awards ceremony was followed by words of encouragement from Social Studies teacher, Anthony Smith, and student speaker Jadah Celestine. 

Lastly, the ceremony concluded with  graduates receiving their diplomas. Every graduate selected a loved one and/or staff member that supported them throughout the year to present their diploma to them. Graduates officially became #YBMade with the ones who mean the most to them. 

Shout out to the Class of 2019! Your perseverance continues to serve as an inspiration to us all.

#YBMade19

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

Support the #YB360 Movement

At YouthBuild Philly’s core, we are committed to creating the right conditions for young leaders to transform their own lives. Our work is creating relationships that shift education experiences from transactional to transformational. Last year, we updated our mission statement to refer to YouthBuild graduates as “critically conscious leaders, committed to positive change for themselves and their communities.” This statement reflects the commitment we make to support the growth of learners beyond earning a diploma and vocational certification. Our mission reflects the belief that young people have the talent and passion to transform themselves and their communities. We are deeply appreciative of your interest and support for YouthBuild, and invite you to make an investment in transformation over transaction.

Starting with our first graduating class in 1992, more than 2,700 young people have earned a high school diploma at YouthBuild Philly. Many of these young leaders have gone on to amazing leadership pathways to help make sure things go right for themselves, for their families and for their communities. This year, we highlight three YouthBuild Philly alumni who have brought their time at YouthBuild full circle by continuing to work with a YouthBuild partner, as a YouthBuild partner, or at YouthBuild itself. We hope you enjoy learning more about the journeys of Crystal, Dana and Isaiah.

These three graduates are a very small but representative sampling of our alumni network who continue to make a positive impact across Philadelphia within their families, careers, and communities. Through a commitment to service and leadership, YouthBuild students and graduates have been able to touch tens of thousands of lives across the city, spanning career paths from building trades to business. YouthBuild Philly’s commitment to creating meaningful workforce development opportunities has led to dozens of employment and training partnerships. We are proud of the leadership roles graduates are playing within PowerCorps PHL, Gap, Inc., ECFMG, Saint-Gobain, and many more.

As you read this, we’re excited to be moving toward the pending launch of our social enterprise cafe in West Philadelphia. Since 2014, YouthBuild Business Administration Scholars (BAS) students have run an in-school cafe catering to students, staff, and in-building visitors. Our new off-campus venture will allow our students to gain hands-on experience staffing and managing a community-facing cafe. The cafe will also support deeper relationships with community members in West Philadelphia. We look forward to a grand opening event in early 2020, and hope that you will join us.

In sharing the stories of transformation represented by Crystal, Dana and Isaiah, we are asking for your support to create the conditions that empower more young people to realize their inherent leadership potential. An investment in YouthBuild Philly allows us to support the transformational leadership pathway of students and alumni in many ways:

  • classroom upgrades to design and plan for meeting the range of learning strengths and needs of students
  • worksite materials and supplies to provide hands-on job training, as well as a safe, OSHA-compliant setting
  • need-based grants to help students address out-of-school challenges such as housing, transportation, child care, and medical expenses
  • technology investments to prepare graduates for competitive employment and advancement opportunities
  • elective courses and clubs for leadership development, film making, holistic wellness, art therapy, music production, LGBTQ+ support, and more
  • college and career exposure events with partners, volunteers, and guest lecturers
  • enrichment opportunities and trips such as a Spring Break service trip, volunteering in communities impacted by natural disasters
  • college and trade school scholarships to offset the financial burdens of higher education

We sincerely appreciate your support for our school, and hope that you will consider a financial investment this year to reinforce your belief in creating conditions for transformational leadership pathways with young people. Any size gift helps to share YouthBuild with more young people, and create a full circle transformational effect on our community as graduates give back. 

We hope that you will consider a gift to YouthBuild Philly this year to affirm your resolute commitment to YouthBuild and the young people we work with. Please click here to make your gift online, or contact our Individual Giving Manager, Ted Molloy, at 215-627-8671 ext. 34 or tmolloy@youthbuildphilly.org if you have questions about how your gift will be used, or if you would like to support our school in another way.

Thank you for your continued support of YouthBuild Philly. Gifts from our past donors have changed thousands of lives – we hope that you will join us this year in changing hundreds more.

In solidarity,

Scott Emerick

Executive Director

Everything Comes Full Circle #YB360

YouthBuild Philly’s updated mission statement refers to graduates as “critically conscious leaders, committed to positive change for themselves and their communities.” This statement reflects the commitment we make to support the growth of learners beyond earning a diploma and vocational certification. Read on to learn about three YouthBuild Philly alumni who have grown tremendously beyond their time at YouthBuild and have brought their YB experience full circle as they continue to work with a YouthBuild partner, as a YouthBuild partner, or at YouthBuild itself. We hope you enjoy learning more about the journeys of Dana (’92), Crystal (’17), and Isaiah (’15).

Dana ’92

Dana (Class of 1992, YouthBuild’s first graduating class) attended two high schools before discovering YouthBuild with the help of a guidance counselor. He left his first school after a series of fights with other students at a time when Philadelphia’s neighborhood rivalries were especially heightened.

His father, a youth pastor and small business owner, gave Dana a choice. “My dad said I could either stay in school or work with him in his poultry shop” – Dana chose the latter, though his time there was brief. He re-enrolled in school, this time at one in his own neighborhood, but knew from his start there that he’d graduate a year behind his same-age peers due to his time away from school.

YouthBuild Philly got off the ground the summer after Dana’s 11th grade year, and at the time catered to young people just like him who were not on track to graduate on-time. His guidance counselor at Bartram High School contacted him – “she asked me ‘do you still want to graduate on-time?’ and told me about a new program that would give me that chance, as well as provide training in carpentry.” Next thing he knew, Dana was interviewing with early YouthBuild staff, and even founding Board members, to get a feel for the school. 

Dana weighed his options and decided to take the leap into YouthBuild, and from the start became a leader, participating in the school’s Youth Caucus alongside staff to determine climate and culture aspects of the new school. In this year at YouthBuild, Dana also met instructor Don Pinkney, who he remains close to today – “Don just makes me more committed to lifelong learning; he has such a calming and relaxing presence.”

Immediately upon graduation, Dana began his career as a laborer and has made numerous professional relationships which he still holds closely today. Now working as a Maintenance Supervisor with Friends Rehabilitation Program (FRP), Dana has been able to bring his time at YouthBuild back full circle – this time as a workforce development partner. 

Much has changed at YouthBuild Philly since that summer of 1991, but our commitment to youth success in the community has held strong. YouthBuild Philly’s GreenBuild track is now working on an FRP-owned abandoned mansion in West Philadelphia, rehabbing the property for multi-family residential use in the near future. In working with YouthBuild Philly, Dana’s commitment to the next generation and Philadelphia’s future has grown even stronger, as he realizes “the young man or woman you’re investing in today will very likely be the leader you need tomorrow” – and he himself is a walking example of this.

Crystal ’17

Crystal (Class of 2017) had a good job and felt financially secure before applying to YouthBuild, and didn’t think she’d follow through on enrollment. In the month before Mental Toughness Training, however, things turned upside down when the family member she was living with was evicted from their apartment. “I lost everything – I only had the clothes on my back, which I wore for a week,” she recalls. To make matters worse, she lost her job while trying to sort out her housing issues; this drove home that it was time to go back to school and build a career.

Upon enrollment, Crystal faced family issues that impacted her attendance. “For my first session, my attendance was 32%; the second was 54%,” she remembers vividly. Through these struggles, her mentor Ms. Jackie kept pushing her – “she supported me outside of school, and even helped after hours – that was a huge impact on me.” Once her family issues were resolved, she poured herself into school – “I was happy to come – I stayed until 6 pm most days.” Crystal’s resilience paid off – she had over 90% attendance in her final session.

Crystal’s support team turned out in a big way for graduation, creating one of her favorite YouthBuild memories. “My grandmother told me my mom wasn’t going to be able to make it, but as I walked across the stage, I looked up and saw her, and just had this huge smile on my face” – a smile which has since been made into a poster that hangs outside Crystal’s old healthcare classroom. Immediately after graduation, Crystal enrolled in a training program to become a patient service representative. She enjoyed her experience, but realized near the end that the role didn’t suit her outgoing personality, and left on good terms – “my supervisor told me to come back any time, and joked that I’d eventually have her job if I did.”

In 2018, Crystal was given a chance to participate in a training program with TD Bank that exposed alumni to various opportunities within the bank. Right from the start, she felt comfortable – “we got to visit many locations and learn about the whole business – from the call center, to tellers, to corporate offices – and decide what was right for us.” After this eye-opening process, Crystal knew that TD would fit her personality and career aspirations, and enrolled in an intensive teller training program. 

Crystal is now employed at one of TD’s highest volume stores in the region, and has excelled in less than a year in the role. She was recently promoted to full-time hours, and also graduated from the bank’s Tomorrow’s Leaders program – an honor earned by only 15 employees across the region each year. She describes the training as “just what it sounds like – gaining skills to grow as leaders in our line of business.” In meetings with her current store manager, Crystal is praised for her time management, work ethic, and customer service, which TD describes as providing a “legendary experience.” Hoping to one day become a store manager herself, Crystal emphasizes that she wants to hire more YouthBuild alumni – “the school has given me so much that I feel like I have to share these opportunities.”

Isaiah ’15

Isaiah (Class of 2015) faced challenges and frustration from the start of his time in high school. Transitioning from middle school to high school, he felt lost because of larger class sizes, distractions in and out of the classroom, and more difficult work. He left after just two weeks, and tried private and online schools before giving up on school during his 9th grade year.

He felt “stuck in life” but maintained with the help of family and friends. When this support system would recommend alternative options, however, he refused out of pride – “I didn’t want to have the same results as my other school experiences.” That all changed when a family friend who graduated from YouthBuild told him about the school.

From his first time attending an information session, Isaiah was sold. “I hadn’t experienced any school like YouthBuild – from day one, my life was changed,” he recalls when describing the relationships he formed early on at YouthBuild. He credits a lot of his growth as a leader – and as a man – to his mentor Chris McFadden. “I think mentoring – providing a big brother or big sister type of relationship – is one of the best things YouthBuild has to offer.”

Isaiah’s year at YouthBuild truly embodied our school’s three core values of Perseverance, Excellence and Respect. While losing friends and family members during the school year, Isaiah came to school for support and finished with 95% attendance for the school year; he served as a leader on his worksite, as a Project Manager in building trades; at graduation, he was chosen by staff and classmates to deliver an address after being presented with the “YouthBuild Way” Award, reflective of his demonstration of all three core values.

Even while taking a job at Philadelphia International Airport, Isaiah remained closely connected to YouthBuild. He was a frequent guest for alumni panels, a regular “high fiver” and presenter during Student Mental Toughness Training, and alumni representative at YouthBuild USA’s Council of Young Leaders. In 2018, Isaiah completed YouthBuild Philly’s inaugural “Grads on Board” program and was elected to the school’s Board of Trustees in 2019. His term was brief, however – he resigned from the Board after being hired as a Community Projects Coordinator at YouthBuild Philly.

Having experienced YouthBuild as a student, an alum, a Board member, and now a staff member, Isaiah reflects that “this is always what I’ve wanted to do – to return as a full-time staff member still feels surreal sometimes.” Isaiah hopes to build on his experience at YouthBuild to open Sacrifice Before Success, a non-profit community center that “feels like home” to help under-resourced communities stay connected to school and focused on future success.

Class of 2020 Acceptance March

August 27, 2019— After completing a rigorous five days of Mental Toughness Training, over 200 young people marched through the streets of Philadelphia to reclaim their education. During an official acceptance ceremony that allowed for a time of celebration and reflection, YouthBuild Philly officially accepted 216 applicants into the Class of 2020. Shout out to YouthBuild Philly for showing the city of Philadelphia what it looks like to show up, show out and reclaim your education!

See slideshow below for more photos from this milestone moment:

#YBMade19: Class of 2019 Graduation

August 23, 2019— Graduation is always a very special time for the YouthBuild Philly community. It serves as a time to reflect on the memories, recognize accomplishments, acknowledge the challenges, and make strides towards the future. At this year’s commencement ceremony, held at Zion Baptist Church in North Philadelphia, YouthBuild Philly celebrated 106 graduates of the Class of 2019 for their perseverance, dedication and commitment to their decision to reclaim their education. As students walked across the stage to receive their diplomas, they were cheered on by an audience of more than 1000 people comprised of their families, friends, YouthBuild staff and supporters. Additionally, they were provided with words of encouragement and inspiration from best-selling author, award-winning filmmaker, and recording artist MK Asante, and community mentor, leader, coach, and former YouthBuild Philly staff member of 14 years, Ameen Akbar who provided the keynote addresses. 

MK Asante, Keynote Speaker
Ameen Akbar, Keynote Speaker

The most memorable and heartfelt part of the ceremony was when all members of the Class of 2019 received their diplomas and were officially announced as graduates! What made that moment even more special was that the Class of 2020 applicants were there watching from the balcony, looking forward to the day that they too will walk across the stage and become #YBMade.

Congratulations to the Class of 2019! We are so proud of you.

See below for a slideshow of more photos from the Class of 2019 Commencement Ceremony:

#YBMade19

YouthBuild Philly Fall Fest

October 30, 2019— Fall is finally here and in celebration of the change of seasons YouthBuild Philly’s Student Life team hosted a Fall Fest for students and staff to come together and get festive. Nothing creates a Fall feel more than warm baked treats, hot beverages, and Halloween crafts. The Student Life team delivered that and so much more. 
Highlights of the day included:

Caramel apple station:

Delicious baked goods table featuring Fall Fest Bake-Off treats, where staff prepared Fall-themed desserts of varying categories. Shout out to the Bake-Off champions: Mr. Alex (apple pie), Mr. Paul (caramel banana coconut cheesecake), Ms. Anna (pumpkin chocolate chip cookies) and Ms. Amanda (cookie dough squares):

Hot chocolate and apple cider station:

Pumpkin decorating crafts:

Cotton candy station:

Movie showing of The Intruders:

YouthBuild Philly’s Orange Room was transformed into a Spooky Escape Room where students worked collectively to solve puzzles by using clues and avoiding the “Ghost of YB”:

This lucky group of students escaped!

Check us out on Instagram for a recap of the day on the Student Life Highlight on our profile.

Happy Fall from YouthBuild Philly!

See below for a slideshow of more photos from Fall Fest:

“Getting Things Done”: #YBserves at The Sankofa Community Farm @ Bartram’s Garden

October 25, 2019— Every year YouthBuild Philly kicks off a day of service centered around our core belief in the value of positively impacting the community. As part-time AmeriCorps members, all YouthBuild Philly students aim to “get things done for America” and contribute at least 450 hours of service to the city of Philadelphia. This year, #ybphilly’s Student Life team spearheaded the project and chose a community space with a rich history and connection to African culture: The Sankofa Community Farm at Bartram’s Garden. Guided by the West African principle of Sankofa, which means “remembering our past to protect our future,” the farm aims to bring consciousness and resources to the Southwest Philadelphia community. Sankofa Community Farm’s deep roots and connection to the Philadelphia community made it the ideal partner for this year’s service kickoff.

The day started off with the AmeriCorps pledge and some words of inspiration from Director of Student Life, Zuri Stone. Zuri’s remarks stood as a reminder to students about the purpose and WHY behind YouthBuild Philly’s commitment to service. 

Zuri Stone, Director of Student Life at YouthBuild Philly

The Sankofa Community Farm at Bartram’s Garden Co-Directors, Chris Bolden-Newsome and Ty Holmberg led a discussion with students and provided history about the farm and its connection to the community. “We are growing food for people in order to encourage folks to understand and exchange, and YOU are helping with that today,” says Chris. Additionally, Chris encouraged students to let the principle of Sankofa guide their service throughout the day.

Chris Bolden-Newsome, Sankofa Community Farm Co-Director
Ty Holmberg, Sankofa Community Farm Co-Director and his good friend “Bart”

After the team rally, YouthBuild Philly came together to revitalize and renew the farm and community garden through various projects such as:

Constructing new community garden plots (Plots that haven’t been restored in ten years):


Berry and orchard planting (led by the Philadelphia Orchard Project):

Care packages containing male and female hygiene products to be distributed to men and women in local shelters:

Greenhouse cleanup:

Farm Team that focused on preparing beds for the Winter and drainage systems:

Street cleanup (on the side of Bartram’s Garden):

“The Service Kickoff day was a powerful reminder of how much service to others is critical for any community. After taking the AmeriCorps pledge to “get things done”, YouthBuild students worked hard and persevered through two hours of manual labor with peers and staff. Our work at Sankofa Community Farm at Bartram’s Garden affects the cultural foodscape of the local Southwest Philly community for this growing season and beyond,” says Tara Anastasi, Assistant Director of Student Life at Youthbuild Philly. 

The Class of 2020 showed up, showed out, planted seeds for the community and YouthBuild Philly’s Class of 2021 who will potentially witness the growth of this year’s project at the Service Kickoff next year. 

Shout out to the Class of 2020 for getting things done!

Check us out on Instagram for a recap of the day on the #YBserves Highlight on our profile.


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

A Warm Welcome: GreenBuild Visits Saint-Gobain

October 14— On the heels of last month’s Design Charrette, where GreenBuild students brainstormed on plans for an upcoming construction project with key partners (including Saint-Gobain), a group of students paid a visit to the Saint-Gobain Headquarters in Malvern, PA for a closer look at the facilities and to learn more about the details of Green construction. 

Lucas Hamilton, Manager of Building Science Applications and Jessica Floersch, Communications Specialist at Saint-Gobain led a guided tour of the facilities explaining details about the construction design layout covering hot Green topics such as: Net Zero buildings, Greenbuilding/retrofitting with Green elements, renewable energy, and LEED certification. Students had a chance to learn about the in-depth process and planning that it takes to construct a project as large-scale as the Saint-Gobain headquarters. Great preparation for their upcoming project in West Philadelphia later this year!

During the tour, students were briefly guided through the work-life experience at Saint-Gobain and met some employees including YouthBuild Philly Alumnus, Alonzo Williams, Class of 2015. Alonzo currently works Full-Time in the Customer Experience department of CertainTeed, and has been with the Saint-Gobain team since the summer. Alonzo even had time to meet some of the current GreenBuild students and provided them with words of encouragement about the opportunities that await them after graduating YouthBuild Philly if they stay the course. 

Alonzo Williams, YouthBuild Philly Alumnus Class of 2015

After further Q&A with Lucas and Jessica, students visited fun communal spaces of the facility, such as the on-site gym.

GreenBuild students left Saint-Gobain even more excited about upcoming projects throughout the school year. They even dropped hints to Jessica about planning a return visit in the near future. 

Special thank you to our friends at Saint-Gobain for the warm welcome!
See below for a slideshow of more photos from the tour:

A Meeting of the Minds: Green Home Design Charrette

September 24— YouthBuild Philly GreenBuild students hosted a design charrette with a few key program partners to review plans for an upcoming project that will result in a full gut rehab of a row home in West Philadelphia later this year. GreenBuild students collaborated with Saint Gobain, Friends Rehabilitation Project, Green Building United, Provision Vocational Training Center and Kieran Timberlake to come up with a plan for the construction and architectural design of the project as part of the YouthBuild USA Green Initiative. During the “meeting of the minds” each organization explained their role in the project, and brainstormed project overview and design elements.

Stan Gatland, Manager of Building Science and Comfort at Saint Gobain/CertainTeed led a Building Science Presentation that covered the reasoning behind various architectural plans, and showcased products and materials that could potentially be used on the upcoming project to ensure that it incorporates advanced features such as temperature control, a multi-comfort system, appropriate lighting and good acoustics.

Chris Cato, Green Initiative Project Manager at YouthBuild USA overviewed the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Design Process, a system aimed to ensure that the project will be built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all metrics such as: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

Kit Elsworth of Kieran Timberlake shared ways to incorporate elements of Passive House, a standard that will be used for energy efficiency in the upcoming project. 

Lastly, GreenBuild students broke into small groups with representatives from each partner organization to brainstorm and provide input on the plan for construction and architectural design of the project. GreenBuild students and program partners are excited to impact the community/environment and collaborate on this project from beginning to end TOGETHER.

Stay tuned for updates on the project’s progress. 

Class of 2020 Cookout Carnival

September 27– YouthBuild Philly created a carnival-themed experience for this year’s Annual Cookout celebrating the Class of 2020. Every year, YouthBuild Philly’s Student Life team hosts a cookout that welcomes the incoming class into the YB family. Staying true to the family vibe, Class of 2020 parents brought their children along to indulge in the day of fun with friends, staff, and peers. This year’s cookout, held in Lemon Hill (Fairmount Park), was filled with action-packed activities seasoned with a carnival feel. 

Highlights of the day included:

Grilled goodness (Hotdogs and burgers (veggie burgers included) ) cooked by YouthBuild Philly staff:

Popcorn Stand:

Bubble Soccer:

Great Music:

Face Painting:

Staff vs. Student Basketball:

Students won!

Double Dutch:

Potato Sack Race:

Photobooth:

The Annual Cookout was a family affair in every sense of the word. It always serves as a chance for the YouthBuild Philly community to kick the year off and come together to simply enjoy each other’s company. We look forward to creating many more great memories with the Class of 2020 throughout the school year.
See more carnival cookout fun in the slideshow below!

#YBMade20