Students Write: “Dear YouthBuild…”

This year, students in Ms. Willa’s Language Arts class spent the academic year working on ethnography projects that studied a place of their choosing. Ethnography, students learned, is a form of social research that observes and analyzes the everyday patterns and practices of a group.  This particular assignment – which Ms. Willa called “Sense of Place, Sense of Self” – highlighted the idea that group and individual identities are often tied to geography and “place.”

At the start of the school year, students selected a place – for example, a youth shelter, or a particular intersection in their neighborhood – to be the focus of their ethnography.  Over the course of the year, students wrote essays studying the rules and symbols of their chosen “place,” drew informational maps, and interviewed members of the community.   Ethnographies often include reflections from the researcher about their own interpretations and biases, so students also wrote letters to the place that they had chosen.

Some students decided to focus their ethnographies on YouthBuild Philly.  Below, we share two letters written to YouthBuild by student ethnographers Angela and Anthony:

Dear YouthBuild,photo2web

I was afraid to open up to you at first as I’m sure you already know, but you did your best to help me.  If I don’t have anyone I know I will always have you by my side through every step I take.  Each day I walk into you and I feel your warm embrace around me making me grow even fonder of you.  If the world had others like you, you could help paint the future of our millennium and future generations to come.

Sometimes you frustrate me, and sometimes I want to let you go but you always give me a reason to hold on.  Many people don’t know you or take time to listen to your story, I know if they took the chance to see who you are you could change the mindset of others.

You sculpted me, you molded me into the woman I need to become.  I may not be perfect but you never judge me; instead you guide me when I fall off track.  We’ve had our differences but you’ve shown me you only want the best for me and my future.  When life knocks me down you always let me know you’re here with a hand to lift me up.

You help me hide from the world around me; you also help me do more productive activities with my life instead of being in the street.  The world could have taken control of me but instead you took me under your wing.  They only fear I have now is letting you down, but I know in my heart that you would never let me do so.

Just seeing you reward my accomplishments and positivity makes me want to make you more proud.  As you watch me grown and as I succeed on my journey, I know that you are smiling upon me.


Angela Shapiro

P.S. See you at graduation – remember, it’s in August.  See you soon.


Dear YouthBuild,photo1web

When I first met you in mental toughness, I was inspired by your positivity and professionalism.  It pushed me to strive for success and make sacrifices in order to reach my goals.  All the people you introduced me to became my family and you became my home.  Failure became my past and success became my future.  You gave me a second chance and showed me what freedom feels like.  Told me that I am just as good as that man carrying his briefcase, walking into a twenty-story building in a suit and tie wearing shoes covered in animals that you only see in the zoo when they’re alive, if not better than him.

You became my voice when nobody else stood up for me.  You’ve proven to the world that I’m not the criminal they expected me to be.  You told my family that I was in good hands and will be working with other young adults to change the community we live in.  You took me under the wing and became my mentor throughout the journey we are taking to success.  You push me every step of the way to force myself not to take a break, slow down or quit marching with this team we all put together.

Thanks to you, I know there’s a brighter future waiting for my arrival.  There is another generation waiting on me to stand in front of them and share my success story, another class of your students are waiting for me to tell them how real this opportunity is.  Without you I don’t know where I’d be.

Anthony Cunningham



Student Work: Somatic Poems

The following “somatic poems” were written by students in YouthBuild Philly’s Page 2 Stage club:

Feltonville Relaxed
by Genesis Maria

Trees outside in the chill
White halls and bright lights
But why
I just walked away
I’m here again
School Overwhelming
by Callieah Ferguson

Paragraph after paragraph
Essay after essay
Lord knows I
Can’t wait until I accomplish all these
A paraphrase. One more direct quote.
Martin Luther King once had a dream.
Putting Feminist in my own words.
Lord only knows how many paragraphs
I have left to go…
Paragraphs after paragraphs.
Thanks Ms. Sandra!
Germantown Calm
by Tahera Johnson

My mind wanders back to mental toughness
I was tough enough.
Knowing I was able to make it, I didn’t quit.
The memories of it won’t exit my mind
I remember when saying hi to strangers wasn’t this easy
The experiences I had were truly worth my time

Students Write: Why Service?

While earning their diploma and trade certification, all students at YouthBuild additionally participate in volunteer and leadership activities in service to their community.  Every student is a part-time AmeriCorps member and completes at least 675 hours of service during their YouthBuild year – thereby earning an education stipend to use for furthering their education after YouthBuild.  While they change their own lives, students change their community for the better as well.  In their Community Change Workshops, students wrote in their journals about their service experience and why service is important part of the YouthBuild experience:

The service I did was at the Drueding Center. I like the Drueding Center because there were young mothers and their children trying to better themselves. I like that because I’m not better than them, I am trying to do the same thing. That’s the best thing; a child can look up to their parents and follow their lead. Service is an important part of YouthBuild because other people help YouthBuild and they give back to the community. We do also and I think that’s the right thing to do.”

– Tiffany

“I did my service at the YES (Youth Emergency Services) Program. It felt good to give back to the community and do something for people who are less fortunate! It felt good because a lot of people don’t have people in their corner helping them out or doing things for them. This service is important to YouthBuild because we are big on community service and giving back to the community. I enjoyed helping.”

– Kamunti 

“The service that I did was helping people to vote. It felt really good because it felt like we were actually making a change. It felt this way because it was the first time I helped someone other than myself. I thought that was important because [an] election was critical to anyone’s situation. Service is an important part of YouthBuild because we help change the community in more ways than I will ever know. It also shows people…that anyone is capable of change.”

– Charles 

Guest Post: Never Too Late

by Shacoya, Class of 2013

As of now, I am a 21-year-old mother of a beautiful 3-year-old little girl, Armani.  She means the world to me.  I’m trying to better myself, not only for me, but for her, too!  I dropped out of school in the 10th grade after I became pregnant with my daughter.  For years I thought about going back to school, but I kept using the excuse of being a mother to not go back.  To me, I was being the best mother I knew how to be by not going to school and instead taking care of my daughter.

A couple of my close family members and friends told me about YouthBuild, so I told myself that once I turned 18, I would apply.  I let 18 and 19 go by before I finally realized that I would not go anywhere in life without an education, and I wouldn’t let that opportunity slip by.  So I applied to YouthBuild, and they called me for orientation and an interview.  I was accepted to come back to Mental Toughness.  Excited would be an understatement!  I finally had something to look forward to besides having my daughter.

I made it through Mental Toughness, surprisingly.  I vowed to myself that 2013 would be my year!  I will give my daughter something positive to say about her mommy.  I may have dropped out of school, but I made it a priority to come back.  I have barriers that are trying to stop me, BUT I WILL NOT LET THEM!!

Because come August 2013, I, Shacoya, will be a YouthBuild high school graduate.

YBN: We are in the Movement

Poem by Farah Johnson,
Class of 2011
Originally published in YBN, the YouthBuild Philadelphia student newspaper

All of us as the youth
Striving together towards improvement.
We have a never-ending burning desire.
It lives in us, within our souls.
Our diplomas we yearn to acquire.
The labels we were branded with slowly disintegrate,
But the trials and tribulations will be great.
Hold your head high, we are in the movement.

All of us as the youth are tomorrow’s society,
As we learn and follow the YouthBuild way,
it becomes part of our personality.
Displayed with honor not put on and taken off
the way we do our clothes.
Everyday counts no matter how long or short.
The class before u did it and now we carry the torch.
I take pride in saying we took our education
back into our hands.
By way of our journey there will be ups and downs,
when we feel no one understands.

Stay motivated, stay strong, we are in the movement.
Ambition will aid us in reaching our goals.
Working together side by side everyone playing a role.
All at once enticing our young children to stay in school.
To pay on our legacy is the golden rule.
Manifesting a society of nurses and more,
Who bleed respect, perseverance and excellence from their cores.
Refrain from negativity, we are in the movement.
Your voices will matter. We do this together as a team and a family.
No matter the weather.