Photos: YouthBuild Community Takes Over Ziegler Elementary for MLK Day of Service

Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. – Martin Luther King, Jr., 1947

On Monday, YouthBuild Philly students, staff and partners joined forces for a painting and building maintenance project at William H. Ziegler Elementary in Northeast Philadelphia. This was YouthBuild Philly’s fifth consecutive year taking over an elementary school on MLK Day to do facility improvements.


Ziegler Elementary is a K-8 public school serving over 500 students from the surrounding Northeast Neighborhood. According to their principal, the school has not received any significant facility improvements in over eight years. In spite of this, the school is a welcoming space where student work is prominently displayed in the hallways and a sense of community permeates the hallways.

To support the efforts of Ziegler’s hardworking staff, YouthBuild volunteers added 65 new murals to the school hallways, staircases, gym and auditorium, installed Solar Gard on the lunchroom windows to reduce solar glare and heat (the same product used in YouthBuild’s Language Arts classrooms), reorganized the school library, and built portable stairwells to make the school’s stage more accessible.


In addition to school improvement projects, some volunteers assembled literacy packets and care packages for distribution to local nonprofits that work with students and the homeless.


“We pride ourselves on being a year-round AmeriCorps service organization, but days like this give our entire school community a deeper connection to the spirit of service because of Dr. King’s mission.”  said YouthBuild Philly Director of Student Life Ameen Akbar. Mr. Akbar oversees YouthBuild Philly’s AmeriCorps and service learning programs.


A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into making sure that volunteer projects have maximum impact. The full-time AmeriCorps members in YouthBuild Philly’s Student Life department oversaw the planning, preparation, and execution of the project – from initial outreach to Ziegler, to stenciling the murals, and organizing volunteer assignments.


Volunteers from our partner organizations – Saint-Gobain, Starbucks, TD Bank, DMi Partners, Rising Queens, Bike & Build, and Hope Partnership for Education – worked alongside YouthBuild students to complete the projects.  Additionally Solar Gard (a subsidiary of Saint-Gobain) donated the materials needed to tint lunchroom windows and make the space more comfortable. Thanks to all our partners and volunteers for donating their time — because of you, we were able to make an even bigger difference for this awesome school!

See more photos from the project in our slideshow:

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Student Food Pantry Opens at YouthBuild!

Last month, students in our Business Administration & Customer Service track opened an in-house food pantry, which provides free food to eligible students. Most of our students live in low-income households and many face food insecurity, which negatively affects their health and their education. Our Case Management team helped with the creation of this valuable resource, and with identifying eligible students.
Items in the pantry range from dairy products and other refrigerated or frozen goods, as well as canned foods,fruit juices,and other non-perishable goods.
Our Business Administration students have experience with food bank operations from volunteering at Share Food Program in North Philly, and running the food cabinet will add to their work experience. Share donated food to the cabinet at YouthBuild Philly; additional support came from the Student Support Fund launched last summer.
We are in need of durable tote bags to help students take food home! If you have any grocery totes to spare, please let us know. 

Getting Ready for MLK Day 2017!

Preparations for our annual Dr. Martin Luther King Day of Service are in full swing!fullsizerender

Last week, YouthBuild Philly’s Community Project Coordinators traveled to Ziegler Elementary in Northeast Philadelphia to begin stenciling the murals that our students and volunteers will paint next Monday. We’re excited to report that Ziegler students are already looking forward to the new murals, and even helped with some of the stenciling!

Our project at Ziegler marks the 5th year that YouthBuild Philly students have spent their MLK Day repainting a Philadelphia public school. Our past projects have taken us to Longstreth Elementary, Morton ElementaryMcMichael Elementary, and Dr. Ethel D. Allen Promise Academy.

Education will be the focus of many MLK Day projects taking place throughout the region, as reported in The Philadelphia Tribune.  We are proud to join others in investing time and resources in local schools!

In addition to painting murals in the school hallways, our project volunteers will be creating care packages and blankets for shelter residents, and installing Solar Gard products in the school’s auditorium.

Volunteer slots for our project are full; however, anyone interested in volunteering on MLK Day can go to the Greater Philadelphia MLK Day of Service website to find other opportunities.


News From Our National Network

Monday’s edition of The New York Times  featured a profile of Dorothy Stoneman, who founded the first YouthBuild program in East Harlem in 1978.  Over the next 38 years, Dorothy’s vision – engaging young people in rebuilding their lives and their community at the same time – grew to encompass 260 programs in the U.S. and 80 international programs. Through it all, Dorothy has been an inspiring leader and an ally to young adults.


In the fall of 2016, Dorothy announced that she would transition away from YouthBuild USA. Her successor, John Valverde, comes to the YouthBuild movement with years of experience advocating for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people.  His own  “second chance” story, of pursuing education and a new life while in prison, has been making the rounds in national media in recent weeks.

As we celebrate our 25th year of providing YouthBuild services in Philadelphia, we are grateful to Dorothy for inspiring our origins and ensuring our local success with advocacy and partnership-building at the national level. She has had incredible influence – indirect and, in many cases, direct – on our students’ lives and their confidence as young leaders. Please join us in wishing her well, and welcoming John to our large and loving YouthBuild family!


Women in Leadership Conference at TD University

Twenty women representing YouthBuild’s Business Administration program and the Young Professionals extracurricular group traveled to Mt. Laurel, NJ earlier this week to attend a Women in Leadership conference at TD University.


The conference was hosted by women representing TD Bank leadership in the region, and featured networking as well as career development activities. Students and TD volunteers spent the morning doing icebreaker activities, and rotated through interview preparation, job searching, resume writing and professional dress trainings during the afternoon.


Here are some of our students’ takeaways:

They saw good potential in me and I just felt good, I felt like a professional when I was sitting at the table.


My favorite part was talking to all the great, awesome women, and how they all told me how I could be whatever I wanted.  It doesn’t matter where you come from, just do what you have to do, get the job done.  Everybody starts somewhere, so just don’t give up.


In addition to hosting the conference, TD donated several boxes of clothing and accessories for our students!  We are very grateful to all the women at TD who showed genuine interest in mentoring and supporting our students on Tuesday, and look forward to future events and collaborations!



Celebrating Thanksgiving as a YB Family

Celebrating Thanksgiving as a chosen family is one of our most cherished traditions here at YouthBuild!  We celebrate Thanksgiving a day early every year with a Thanksgiving lunch – prepared and served by staff – followed by a party and games. In addition to staff and students (and students’ children), we often have great volunteers in attendance as well!




To feed this large group, our staff took on many cooking challenges on Tuesday night, from sides to dessert, and brought their masterpieces in the next morning. This year’s menu included:

  • 8 Turkeys
  • 4 Hams
  • 8 Large trays of mac & cheese


Some of us (or at least your humble blogger) were exhausted and ready to nap after this incredible meal, but our resident DJ kept the party going!


Special thanks this year go to Sharon Foley and Kelli Joseph from Wyndham Hotel Group, who contributed to the spread and also volunteered to serve food to students. Thank you for donating your time and joining our community on this important day!


40 Students Graduate in November Ceremony

15259753_1802733366643895_8947301776296868778_oWe love graduation ceremonies of every size – large, small, and anywhere in between. At YouthBuild, our focus on students as individuals means that each student’s completion is a milestone for our school.  Each diploma-accepting smile is its own special event.

On Tuesday, November 22 we celebrated forty times as the Fall School cohort of the Class of 2016 walked across the stage at Zion Baptist Church in North Philadelphia.  Last week’s graduates are all students who overcame unique struggles – and used a little extra time – to complete YouthBuild’s diploma requirements, which include academic achievements, demonstration of vocational skills, and the completion of community impact hours.

The theme for this ceremony became “be the change you want to see the world,” as staff and students reflected on the self-determination that the Class of 2016 has shown. We are so proud of our graduates’ resilience and motivation, and believe they will make a big difference wherever they go from here!

Click through our gallery for more photos from the ceremony:

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25 ways to support YouthBuild students during the holiday season

At YouthBuild, we know that transformation comes from small gestures, adding up over time.  For example, at YouthBuild:

  • Each day our students come to school, they build new habits and skills for long-term success.
  • A hug – or even just a well-timed high five – can turn a bad day around.
  • One field trip can change a young person’s vision for their future.
  • Every dollar donated helps us reach our goals.

During the holidays, small gestures from our supporters can go a long way. Whether you’re making a year-end donation, out shopping for gifts, or looking for ways to be more involved in 2017, here are some steps you can take to help young adults transform their lives:

1. Make a donation to YouthBuild Philly! Every contribution helps us provide life-changing services – from education to job training to counseling and more – to young adults who have previously dropped out of high school.

2. If you shop using, use their Smile program to donate a portion of sales to YouthBuild Philly! Here’s the link to get started.

3. Donate school supplies or (new, very gently used) backpacks.


4. Donate suitcases so that our students can go on service trips to places like Utuado, Puerto Rico – for many of them, this is their first time traveling outside the Philadelphia region!

5. Donate canned and dry foods to our food pantry, which helps students who don’t have money for lunch or breakfast.


6. Donate your old (but still in good condition, please) coats – it’s cold on the worksite, and our students learn better when they feel warm!

7. Sign up to volunteer.  Your experience, talents, and time can make a big difference in the classroom, at the worksite, and in our hallways.


8. Donate to YouthBuild through your workplace’s United Way campaign, or distribute our United Way number (14574) to people you know who work in companies that support the United Way.

9. Hire our students/provide internships or other work experiences. Contact us if you would like to know more about internships or employment.


10. Invite YouthBuild students to tour your company’s office or campus.

11. Offer unused tickets for Philadelphia sports, culture, and arts events – Eagles, Sixers, Phillies, Flyers, Union, museums, concerts, plays/musicals – our students treasure these experiences! Contact Meredith Molloy if you have tickets to donate to students.


12. Businesses: Commit to sponsoring our May 2017 fundraising event so that all ticket and silent auction sales can directly support our program. Contact Ted Molloy for event details.

13. Attend a site visit, or if you’ve already attended one, bring a friend or two to the next one. Our next one is December 2!  Email Eva Lexie for details and to RSVP.

14. Sign up for our monthly newsletters so that you know what’s new and upcoming at YouthBuild.

15. Share our website with a dropout, and let them know we’ll start accepting applications early next year.

16. Share one of our videos with your contacts to help spread the word.


17. Give a scholarship ($500) to a YB grad in the name of a loved one.

18. Be a mentor – to a YouthBuild Philly student, or someone else in need.

19. Lead a workshop in your area of expertise to aid with our students’ professional development.  Contact our volunteer coordinator to learn more!


20. Follow our social media channels and share them with friends. Facebook? We like it! Instagram? #absolutely. Twitter? It’s our favorite!

21. Donate toys, books and gently-used children’s clothing (newborn – 5 years old) for our students’ families – or organize a drive with your friends and colleagues!

22. Support non-profits that give our students and graduates additional opportunities and services. Helping disconnected young adults succeed is a collaborative effort. We’re big fans of Covenant House, PowerCorps, Aid for FriendsBroad Street Ministry, The Attic Youth CenterHand2Paw,  and Philadelphia Community Corps! This list could go on and on – let us know if you want more leads on Philly nonprofits who serve opportunity youth.


23. Buy gifts for your family and friends from our customer service training & employment partners. Our supporters include Saxby’s, Kayuh,  Insomnia Cookies, ShopRite, and Gap, Inc. stores – and who doesn’t love a Starbucks gift card? 

24. Support a local cafe – and former foster youth learning job skills – by buying goods from our friends at Monkey & The Elephant!

25. Reserve your ticket to or our 25th Anniversary celebration on May 4! 

Questions about events, in-kind donations, or anything else on this list? Email Communications & Development Associate Sarah Peterson:


YouthBuild Students Discuss “State of Young Philly”

Last week, YouthBuild Philly’s Young Professionals and Young Friends groups collaborated to host “Conversations Over Coffee” as part of Young Involved Philadelphia’s week of State of Young Philly programming.


At this event, YouthBuild Philly students and alumni discussed the issues facing young people in Philadelphia, including:

  • youth homelessness and access to resources
  • violence
  • community change and mentoring opportunities

Each 30-minute panel featured 4-6 students sharing their experiences with and thoughts on these issues. The topics were chosen by the students themselves, and questions were provided by our moderators from the Young Friends of YouthBuild Philly, the panelists themselves, and audience members.

More than 30 community members, including Young Involved Philadelphia members, local elected officials, and YouthBuild Philly staff, alumni and current students attended and engaged with our young leaders.

YouthBuild alum, Young Friends Board member, and moderator for the evening, Zurrell Toney, was impressed with the students that participated.“The panelists did a very good job with how open and honest they were in answering the questions, and really added to the uniqueness of the event by sharing personal stories about how and why they made certain decisions in their lives.”


Participating students and alumni relished the opportunity for civic engagement, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of serving as expert panelists on issues that have had a profound impact on their personal lives and journeys. Several students took full advantage of the networking time between panels to make professional connections with audience members, and clearly stated their goals and plans for beyond YouthBuild.

We’re very excited to have been able to participate in this programming, and are excited to work with Young Involved Philadelphia more in the future to help give a voice to Philadelphia’s young people.


Meet a YB Volunteer: Jane Uptegrove

Interested in volunteering at YouthBuild? Let us know!

What made you decide to volunteer at YouthBuild?

After hearing about YouthBuild from my good friend Marty Brigham and attending one of the graduations a few years ago, I was hoping to be able to get involved with this program knowing it’s accomplishments helping students who are trying again to succeed.

What is a take away you’ve had so far?

I love the optimism of the students, their perseverance, their commitment to their values of making a difference, their awareness of their ability to make a difference, their open-ness to learning and growth, and their self-confidence.

What’s a notable moment you’ve had with a student?

I was working with a student who had written a statement about helping children achieve their dream by establishing a safe environment. I was so moved by her powerful statement that the student was concerned about me!

Share a little bit about what you do outside of YouthBuild.

I am a recently retired geologist who worked for the state of New Jersey. I’ve lived in Philly since 1975 so I value this opportunity to get involved in my city again.