MLK Day 2016 – Murals, School Improvement, Neighborhood Service, and Partnerships

For YouthBuild students and staff – and thousands of other Philadelphians – MLK Day represents a day of service and reflection rather than a day off.  This year, our school community spent Monday engaged in two ambitious service projects in North Philadelphia – one at Dr. Ethel D. Allen Promise Academy (a K-8 public school) and another at our Nicetown worksite and the Nicetown CDC headquarters.

At the end of the day we had repainted the Nicetown CDC walls, created over 40 original murals in the hallways at Dr. Ethel Allen, and made dozens of blankets and literacy packets for pre-K students.  We also made great headway at our worksite in Nicetown, where Building Trades students are close to completing the full-gut rehabilitation of two formerly vacant rowhomes.

We are proud of our students for the powerful community impact that achieve year-round, but yesterday was particularly impressive.  We owe great thanks to the volunteers from DMi Partners, Saint-Gobain North America, Starbucks, VILLA, and TD Bank who worked alongside us to affect change in Philadelphia!

Read on for details and pictures:

Transforming Dr. Ethel D. Allen Promise Academy

This year’s signature MLK Day project took place at Dr. Ethel D. Allen Promise Academy, a K-8 public elementary school in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of Philadelphia.  Except for a few bulletin boards, the school’s hallways were previously bare and did not reflect the school community’s creativity, ambition, and passion for learning.  YouthBuild Philly offered to add several murals, and the school’s principal agreed to open the school as a service site on MLK Day.  In just a few hours, many well-organized teams of students, staff and volunteers painted over 40 murals in the two-story school.  Take a look at these before (left) and after (right) shots:


And click through to see the activity in process:

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A YouthBuild Tradition of School Transformation

This marks the fourth year that YouthBuild has contributed supplies and person-power to a school transformation project on MLK Day.  In past years, we have planned and executed school makeovers at Longstreth Elementary, Morton Elementary, and McMichael Elementary.  Our students are passionate about giving back to local schools – including the ones they attended as children – so that the next generation of students will have greater opportunities thanks to a safe and supportive learning environment.


Service in Nicetown

YouthBuild Philly organized a second service site at the Wingohocking St. worksite and at the nearby Nicetown Community Development Corporation offices.  Nicetown CDC owns the two Wingohocking St. rowhomes under renovation by YouthBuild students.  On MLK Day, students worked with Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed volunteers to hang drywall in both rowhomes, and volunteers from DMi Partners provided tech support and painting assistance to Nicetown CDC.

Partners Make it Possible

This year’s projects added up to a rather ambitious undertaking, one which would not have been successful without volunteer support from VILLA, Saint-Gobain North America, DMi Partners, and TD Bank.  Saint-Gobain and DMi sent volunteers to both project sites – and VILLA and Saint-Gobain provided financial support for supplies and food.  Along with service, teamwork is one of the central tenets of YouthBuild’s model, and we’re so glad to have partners who embody that quality and are willing to work with our students as they rebuild their lives and their community.  To all of our supporters — thank you!


SugarHouse VP Counsels students: Work Hard, Be Nice

_MG_2148On Wednesday, Leigh Whitaker, the VP of Communications for SugarHouse Casino came to YouthBuild Philly to speak with alumni and select students in the Business Administration vocation track. The main emphasis of the workshop was to focus on code switching in professional contexts, but Leigh shared her personal experience and life advice as well, including 10 key pieces of wisdom, which students and staff took notes on:

  1. Life is not fair!If the person next to you works less than you and makes more than you, that’s not relevant to you.
  2. Life is about choices. Choose wisely.Sometimes you will have to choose between the good and the bad. Sometimes the good and the good. Sometimes the crappy and the crappier.
  3. Don’t let anyone use up your time doing what they want to do or what they want you to do.In general, try to keep your relationships healthy. Even if you are a “yes” person, don’t maintain one-sided relationships. This should apply across the board: to friendships, work relationships, and personal relationships.
  4. Don’t take a chance with the impression your tattoos or clothes can make.Tattoos can easily be covered, you can easily pull up your pants, and you can easily not wear a wrinkly shirt to an interview – when you don’t do these things, she says, she cannot trust your judgment and will not hire you.
  5. Work hard. Be nice.(Borrowed from her friends at KIPP). You don’t have to love everyone, but you do have to respect the chair that they’re in and peacefully coexist with them.


  1. If you dig a ditch for someone else, you might as well dig two.What benefit do you have in bringing someone else down?
  2. Be smart about the company you keep. Everyone isn’t your friend!
  3. Own your mistakes!If you make a mistake, own up to it. Don’t try to blame someone else; it’s your mistake. Also, nobody wants to hear a laundry list of excuses.
  4. Be prepared!Go into an interview, a meeting, etc. prepared! Know what you’re going to be talking about and dress appropriately.
  5. Find yourself a good coach! Leigh said it is helpful to have a team of coaches behind you and be intentional about what areas you select them for.


Leigh was very honest and genuine with students and shared her advice coming from the standpoint that she does not know everything, and learned from experience – including mistakes. She did not get to this extremely successful point in her career by having a master plan from day one and following it. A lot of the major points in her career were affected by connections she made from working hard and being nice.


We are so grateful to Leigh for for taking the time to meet with our students and supporting them on their professional development journey!

Class of 2015 Fall Graduation


Today, 38 YouthBuild students in the Class of 2015 received their diplomas in a small ceremony at Zion Baptist Church.  These students represent some of the most resilient young men and women to enroll at YouthBuild, because they endured obstacles during the year that prevented them from graduating in August and persisted anyway, thanks to our REVIVE and Fall School programs.  Fall School Graduation is a celebration of accomplishment and persistence, and a wonderful reminder to never, ever give up.


This year’s Keynote Speaker was Aurelina Rojas, the Director of HR at Saxbys Coffee.  Aurelina also received an award for her commitment to YouthBuild Philly’s mission.  Saxbys Coffee has hired four YouthBuild alumni in the past year!


Student speaker Roberto gave an encouraging speech to students about embracing the journey ahead of them, and student speaker (and “Best Poet” award winner) Aushanae read an original poem called “Flowers.”


A total 156 young adults have now graduated from the Class of 2015.


Congrats to our newly minted alumni! You are an inspiration and we can’t wait to see what you accomplish next.



Saint-Gobain Helps Recent Grads Navigate Hiring Process


Lindsay Traum, Human Resource Manager for Saint-Gobain’s Performance Plastics plant in Mickleton NJ, visited YouthBuild Philly yesterday and spoke to a few recent graduates from the classes of 2014 and 2015.

Lindsay gave our graduates information about an entry-level opening with her plant, took questions from the group about the position and careers with Saint-Gobain, and conducted mock interviews with the three grads who attended in order to provide feedback on how they can be successful should they decide to apply for that role or any other one at Saint-Gobain.

We were excited to hear from Lindsay about how her plant’s workplace culture valued safety, job coaching, and helping staff develop over a long-term period.


Saint-Gobain has been a key funding and program partner of YouthBuild’s greenbuilding projects for several years, and the partnership is now expanding into supporting our postsecondary objectives, including career coaching and mentoring. This is the first of what we hope will be a series of employment and career-focused activities with Saint-Gobain!


Reclaiming Our Education: Pictures and Signs from YouthBuild’s MTT March

August is always a busy month at YouthBuild Philly, and this year was no exception.  While the Class of 2015 finished their last diploma requirements and got ready for graduation, applicants for the Class of 2016 embarked on Mental Toughness Training, a 6-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 and address important professional and life skills needed for success.

Although the transition back into the classroom can be jarring, many applicants are inspired by the high stakes of what YouthBuild has to offer and rise to the occasion.  For example, many applicants show up early to ensure that they’re on time, resulting in long lines outside of the school each morning.

On the final day, applicants who have successfully completed Mental Toughness “march” down the sidewalks of Broad Street to an acceptance ceremony in Center City.  Along the way, they carry signs that they’ve made to express their determination and their reasons for going back to school.

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We’ve curated some of our favorite signs from this year’s to decorate our hallways, but we wanted to share them with you, too.  Click through the gallery below to start getting to know our Class of 2016!

YouthBuild Philly and Saint-Gobain Team Up to Rebuild and Give Back


Since May 2012, YouthBuild Philly students have been in the process of renovating two adjoining properties in the Nicetown section of the city, transforming previously abandoned eyesores into LEED-targeted homes for low-income residents.


Last Thursday, Saint-Gobain employees from the corporation’s King of Prussia headquarters braved near-freezing temperatures to volunteer alongside the students.  In addition to installing Saint-Gobain Corporation fencing product along the edge of the property, teams of students and volunteers worked together to frame new walls and windows and reinforce the structures’ existing brickwork.

The Nicetown properties still need several months’ worth of work before completion, but the partnership strives to support the surrounding community in the meantime as well.  In the spirit of the coming Thanksgiving holiday, Saint-Gobain employees and YouthBuild students collected canned and boxed food and brought those donations to the worksite.

The food was given to the Nicetown Community Development Corporation’s food cabinet, and will be distributed to food-insecure families in the surrounding neighborhood.

As Thanksgiving approaches, we are thankful to have partners and supporters in the Greater Philadelphia community like Saint-Gobain Corporation and its employees, who are committed to supporting our students and their efforts to improve the community.

PHOTOS: Community Night 2014

Is it just us, or is this school year flying by? We are already in our fourth week of academic and vocational training!

Now that students have had a chance to settle into their routines and responsibilities, we held a Community Night at the school last night so that our students could share their YouthBuild experience with family, friends, and supporters. In breakout sessions, students and community members sat together to talk about the changes they’ve witnessed or experienced so far this year, and how community members can support our students as the year continues.

We loved hearing from our community members about the difference they’ve observed in students’ motivation, energy, and passion for learning since arriving at YouthBuild. It was also a joy to meet the parents, grandparents, children and siblings who have inspired our students to embark on this journey towards a more positive future. Thank you for joining us last night to support YouthBuild students! We look forward to seeing you at future community events – and graduation!


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MLK Day 2013: YouthBuild Philly Gives Longstreth Elementary an Extreme School Makeover!

Note: Stay tuned for student accounts and reflections on this year’s day of service!

For many in the U.S., Martin Luther King Day is thought of as a day off from school or work. At YouthBuild Philly, however, it’s one of our biggest days on. Service in the community is a core element of YouthBuild Philly’s program, and we were excited to partner with the Greater Philadelphia MLK Day of Service again this year by hosting several projects at W.C. Longstreth Elementary in Southwest Philadelphia.

Painting in the cafeteriaMore than 200 YouthBuild students, staff and volunteers came together on Monday, Jan 21 to repaint the school’s cafeteria, stairwells, hallways and library. Volunteers painted over the cafeteria’s dull white walls, dreary dark green doors and old, fading Sesame Street characters.  These were replaced with a vibrant sky-blue background, inspirational quotes and illustrations, and positive affirmations about the school community.

Health screeningsMeanwhile, inside the school classrooms, other teams carried out service projects to serve greater Philadelphia. One team made literacy kits for young learners, while in another classroom volunteers decorated reused t-shirts with messages about sexual abuse for the Clothesline Project. Using clothes and toiletries donated by YouthBuild supporters, another team assembled care packages for shelter residents at Project H.O.M.E. and Bethesda Project.  Several volunteers also made no-sew fleece blankets to donate.  We invited Longstreth students and neighborhood residents to attend the event, which included free health screenings for the public administered by YouthBuild students in the Healthcare training track.

Cleaning the Point Breeze playgroundSome YouthBuild students and staff braved the below-freezing temperatures to participate in a special project at 20th and Tasker in the Point Breeze neighborhood of South Philly.  As part of an ongoing partnership with  ACE Mentoring and Urban Roots, students collected over thirty bags of trash and helped to repaint a hopscotch court at Ralph Brooks Park, a neighborhood playground and basketball court.  This service was a part of an ongoing three-month long collaboration in which YouthBuild students learn from political representatives, community organizers, developers, and city planners about the park revitalization process.

Greg "Just Greg" CorbinFollowing the morning of service, students and neighborhood residents gathered in the Longstreth gym for a performance showcase featuring spoken word performances by YouthBuild students and local poets such as Lyrispect and Greg “Just Greg” Corbin, as well performances by local artists Fese, DollarBoyz and Yazz The Greatest.

We’re so grateful to everyone who partnered with us on this day of service, including our Young Friends, volunteers from DMi Partners, and bottled water company CerebellumH2O. For more pictures from the day, click the gallery below – and follow us on Facebook  for even more photos, as well as future updates and pictures from our program and service projects!

Students Help Rehabilitate Historical Building for MLK Day of Service

More than 200 students and staff members joined over 80,000 volunteers throughout the greater Philadelphia area to serve the community in honor of the 17th Annual Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service.

YouthBuild Philly partnered with Opport-UNITY, a local organization offering construction training to ex-offenders and people in addiction recovery, to rehabilitate their new training facility. The facility is located at the historical Engine Company No.11 building on South Street. Prior to the desegregation of the Philadelphia Fire Department in 1952, Engine 11 was Philadelphia’s de facto African American firehouse.

“Today is the beginning of a long-lasting relationship between YouthBuild Philadelphia and Opport-UNITY Inc. Training Center,” said William Webb, Executive Director of Opport-UNITY Inc. Training Center. “Our vision is to engage people made up of a disenfranchised community who were once deemed useless by some in society. We train them in the field of construction, and they become will serve as a ray of hope to the community. We are grateful to have these youth involved in our work.”

YouthBuild Philadelphia students – all former high school dropouts – are working toward their diplomas and engaging in hands-on vocational training. Over half of the students engage in a construction training program by rehabilitating homes for low-income families. Today, YouthBuild students worked with staff and students from Opport-UNITY in an ongoing rehabilitation process by cleaning and painting the Willie G. Williams Multipurpose Center, an approximately 10,000 sq. ft. building. YouthBuild plans to continue making improvements to the building over the next year.

“At YouthBuild Philadelphia, we believe that everyone deserves a second chance at success,” said Don Pinkey, Director of Building Trades at YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School. “Like YouthBuild, Opport-UNITY offers people a second chance through hands-on job training. We could not have a better partner in service on this important day for our community. This project is also an opportunity for our students to use their construction skills to work on a building with great historical significance to Philadelphia’s African American community.”

YouthBuild Philly is dedicated to volunteer service and reconnects youth to their community through civic engagement. In the past 19 years, YouthBuild students have rehabilitated over 75 homes for low-income families, refurbished more than 2,500 computers, and provided thousands of volunteer hours to long-term care facilities and community organizations. YouthBuild Philadelphia was honored for its many years of involvement in the MLK Day of Service by the Eleventh Annual Harris Wofford Award for Active Citizenship in 2009.

See more photos of the project on Flickr here, and coverage of the event in the South Philly Review here.

YouthBuild student on MLK Day of Service

YouthBuild students on MLK Day of Service

YouthBuild students and staff painting a mural for Opport-UNITY

Students to Help Rehabilitate Historical Building for MLK Day of Service

In honor of Philadelphia’s 17th Annual MLK Day of Service, YouthBuild Philly will help rehabilitate a training facility for Opport-UNITY. Over 200 YouthBuild Philly students, staff and volunteers will join Opport-UNITY, a local organization offering construction training to ex-offenders and people in addiction recovery, on Monday, January 16.

The new training facility will be located at the historical Engine Company No.11 building on South Street. Prior to the desegregation of the Philadelphia Fire Department in 1952, Engine 11 was Philadelphia’s de facto African American firehouse.  YouthBuild Philadelphia will work with staff and students from Opport-UNITY to complete an ongoing rehabilitation process by cleaning and painting The Willie G. Williams Multipurpose Center, an approximately 10,000 sq. ft. building.

If you are interested in working on this project with the Young Friends of YouthBuild Philly on MLK Day, please sign-up to volunteer here.


Date and time: Monday, January 16, 2012,  9:00 am – 12:00 pm

Location: The Willie G. Williams Mutlipurpose Center (Engine Company No. 11
1016-18 South St., Philadelphia, PA 19147
Click for map and street view

Contact: Kristen Forbriger,