Meet Ernest Dawkins (’18)

Ernest Dawkins wanted a change, and his cousin (Class of 2012 Alumna) encouraged him to apply to YouthBuild. Unlike his last school experience, Ernest was looking for a school where he would stay engaged and grow as a student. Once he got to YouthBuild, he did just that. Ernest is a thriving student on the Advanced Construction track, with the goal of graduating, going to college for Carpentry and pursuing his dream of playing basketball.


It’s safe to say that Ernest is enjoying his YouthBuild experience thus far. He says “my time at YouthBuild has been the best experience of my life. I’m engaged and I talk more in class than I ever have before.” This has not always been the case for Ernest who eventually dropped out of his last school due to low interest and motivation. “YouthBuild provides more of a personal touch and one on one attention with students,” he says.

Ernest made the decision to prioritize his education and get on a better path. “School is my priority. This is a big shift for me, and has taken a lot of stress off my mom. She doesn’t have to worry as much now that I’m on a better path,” he explains.

Ernest’s main source of motivation has always been his family. As a 19 year old with North Philadelphia roots, Ernest has a strong desire to support his family (Mom, Dad, 4 brothers and 1 sister). “I want to be able to support my family. I want to be in a position to help them. They have already done so much for me.”


Additionally, Ernest’s passion for basketball helps to keep him driven. He started playing basketball at the early age of four. Ernest learns from his love of basketball on and off the court. “The respect I have for my teammates, is the same respect I have for my YouthBuild family,” he says. “If you have strong work ethic and grind hard, you will get results. Just put your all into it,” he explains. When asked about his favorite player Ernest says, “I love the game. I do not have a favorite player. You can learn from any player, from the worst to the best. You have to study them in life, not just their game.” Good point Ernest.

As session three comes to a close, Ernest is closer than ever to his goals and he couldn’t be more excited. Ernest acknowledges some of his teachers who have contributed to his growth as a student. “Shout out to Ms. Kenya, who makes learning easy. I love her way of teaching,” he says, “Shout out to Mr. Rich, who always stays on me and makes sure that my work is done.”

“YouthBuild has helped to put me on the road to success.”

Keep up the great work Ernest! Keep going.


Tymere Carter-Burns: YouthBuild, A Second Family

Get to know Tymere Carter-Burns (‘18), GreenBuild track student.

Tymere is a 19 year old West Philadelphia native, who has become part of the YouthBuild family in more ways than one. Learn more about his journey and why YouthBuild has become his second family.

What brought you to YouthBuild?

My sisters. All of my sisters attended YouthBuild, and I attended their graduations. Going to their graduations made me feel happy and I looked forward to being in the same place. I wanted to be a graduate with a trade.

(Five of Tymere’s sisters attended YouthBuild in the graduating classes of 2005, 2007, 2011, and 2012 (2)).

Hearing about my sisters’ experience really made me want to come to YouthBuild. They all had good experiences. YouthBuild has really become part of the family.

Tymere Carter-Burns with two of his siblings at YouthBuild Philly.

What has your YouthBuild experience been like thus far?

My experience has been “litty”. I wake up looking forward to coming to school. Even if there’s drama in my life, YouthBuild brings a positive energy. It’s the little things. They bring you up when you’re feeling down. When you’re absent they check on you to make sure you’re good. Everyone has a good vibe, and I don’t have to worry about drama.

What advice did you receive from your sisters on how to navigate your YouthBuild experience?

  • “Go after all of the opportunities that YouthBuild provides.”
  • “Don’t be shy, and ask questions if you don’t know the answer.”
  • “The case managers are in your corner, you can trust them.”

Overall, my sisters showed me the ropes and prepared me for YouthBuild.

Tell me a little about your experience on the GreenBuild track.

We have fun and we’ve grown a bond. I have been learning a lot and gaining a lot of construction experience. Right now, we are building a training center for future Building Trade classes to come.

What has been your favorite GreenBuild activity so far?

Our trip to the GreenBuild International Conference and Expo in Boston has been by favorite trip so far. We had a chance to network with companies and staff/students from other YouthBuild programs across the country. It was my first time in Boston, and GreenBuild had a chance to bond.

Tymere and GreenBuild peers at the GreenBuild International Conference & Expo in Boston, Massachusetts.

What are your future goals?

My future goal is to graduate YouthBuild with a trade that will allow me to be the best family man and father that I can be.

What is your favorite thing about YouthBuild?

The love that they show. One morning, I was mad leaving the house. I was still mad when I got to Ms. Jody’s class, and I brought my attitude to class. I started being mean. Ms. Jody treated me nice regardless of my attitude. I noticed this, and it led me to apologize and share what was making my day rough. This makes me appreciate YouthBuild.

Do you have any shout outs?


  • Mr. George- My GreenBuild instructor. He really is working hard to get me where I need to go. He’s getting me ready for the working world.
  • Mr. David- My mentor. He really helps me get my academics on track.
  • Ms. Rebekah- Math is my favorite subject and she is my favorite math teacher.

What motivates you on your YouthBuild journey?

My family, my three year old daughter Symera, and my education which will help me to support my family.

Tymere planting a tree at TD Bank’s Tree Day in Kensington.

What are some core  family values/lessons that you will always carry with you?

My father and mother have both passed away. They always instilled strong family values in me and my siblings. We learned that you should take up for your family always. If no one loves you, at least your family will love you. Family is so important. Family is everything to me.

That’s why I love YouthBuild. I feel like I’m at home, like I’m with my second family.





#YBExcellence: Alumni Stories

This month we are highlighting two remarkable #YBPhilly alumni who took full advantage of the support they received at YouthBuild Philly. Tyrik (Class of 2010) and Nicole (Class of 2017) are prime examples of #YBexcellence. See below to learn more about their journeys.



Tyrik (‘10) was born a leader. The fifth of ten children, he worked hard from the age of 10 to help support his single mother and his brothers and sisters – taking odd jobs like pumping gas and carrying groceries for tips to help feed his family. As an early teen, the hard work and leadership qualities took a turn, as he led his friends into mischievous, then eventually illegal, behavior.

After a series of escalating events at schools like Philadelphia Military Academy and Community Education Partners, Tyrik was eventually arrested and placed in The Glen Mills Schools. This time in placement unexpectedly gave Tyrik a great chance to be a leader in positive ways. He was elected president of his unit and also started playing sports for the first time, excelling at volleyball, football and basketball – and was even offered a basketball scholarship at a local college. At the time, Tyrik thought “this is my chance to be the first in my family to go to college.”

When he was released from Glen Mills before earning his diploma, Tyrik had to find another option for over-aged, under-credentialed students – and had heard about YouthBuild from his older brother and sister, who graduated a few years before. With the scholarship as his motivation, Tyrik came to YouthBuild Philly with a desire to demonstrate his leadership skills and “was given so many new opportunities at YouthBuild, and I liked everything I tried.” His positive energy and desire to help his peers find their own potential made him stand out and helped him forge lasting relationships with virtually every staff member at the school. “I matured a lot at YouthBuild – it’s deeper than school,” he says, listing more than 10 staff members that he had a deep connection to during his time.

Immediately upon graduation, Tyrik left Philadelphia for Johnson College in Scranton, where he earned his Associate’s Degree while playing for the basketball team. While playing in an all-star game in Delaware, he was noticed by a coach at Wilmington University – and offered the chance to earn his Bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science, which he completed in 2015.

Tyrik’s journey has taken him back to Glen Mills – now as a counselor. He’d worked part-time there since graduating from YouthBuild, and after earning his Bachelor’s, two mentors at Glen Mills recommended him for a Dean position at Young Scholars Frederick Douglass Charter School. After interviewing and touring the school, he started working as a Dean the very next day. Within six months, he was hand-selected to become a 5th grade math teacher after the school’s principal took notice of his work as a tutor and the connections he was able to make. Even while teaching, he never lost his passion for his work as a Dean –  “they used to call me a Dean-Teacher.” During prep periods he roamed the halls to maintain his connection to the entire school, before eventually realizing that he was best-suited to a behavioral role.

Now focusing his youth development full-time at Glen Mills, Tyrik uses his experiences to connect with the young men there to help them reach their potential. “I’ve been through what they’ve been through,” he explains about his connection with Glen Mills students; “they see that I’m able to be real with them.” In addition to this day-to-day work, Tyrik works with a number of community organizations on dropout prevention efforts – but remains dedicated to making sure that even those who do leave school realize it’s not too late to turn their lives around. “It just makes me want to keep helping, helping, helping” other young men to realize their potential and achieve their goals.



Nicole’s (‘17) connection to younger generations is literal. As a proud mother of a daughter, her motivation to succeed beyond YouthBuild Philly is also inherent. “Everything I do is for my daughter – I want to show her that she can do anything,” Nicole explains.

Before her daughter was born, things weren’t always so clear for Nicole. She bounced around from house to house as a child, living with family members and in foster care from the age of 3 until she was 9 years old, when she was finally able to live with her mother full-time. Even then, she fended for herself much of the time, working several jobs at once to help support herself. When she became pregnant during her junior year at Thomas Edison High School, she struggled socially as peers judged, teased and even threatened her. As a result, she left school to focus on becoming a mother.

Continuing to work various low-skill minimum wage jobs while taking on the new responsibilities of motherhood, Nicole realized that her options without a high school diploma were limited, and decided to re-enroll in school – “I had to go back to school, to better myself for my daughter.” Her cousin graduated from YouthBuild in 2010, “so I always knew about YouthBuild, and realized this was my best chance to finish my diploma.” Once completing mental toughness, Nicole immediately showed herself as a “quiet storm,” taking on every leadership opportunity she was offered.

Nicole excelled in YouthBuild’s GreenBuild construction track, and had opportunities to set herself up for further career success by attending conferences and networking events, such as the American Association of Energy Engineers’ global conference last spring, and also worked with various community and corporate partners to help broaden her knowledge as well as her network. Nicole also benefited from a series of pre-apprenticeship classes on several Saturdays this past Spring – one of a just a handful of GreenBuild students to have this unique opportunity. The classes prepared her for the union exam, which she passed in May.  Even though she had to sacrifice some social opportunities to push forward professionally, she firmly says “it was all worth it – just knowing that I invested in myself.” In June, Nicole was one of just 12 students to have finished their graduation requirements early enough to participate in a special early graduation ceremony. Naturally, her daughter came to the stage to present her diploma.

Since graduation, Nicole has been working with the city’s local carpenters’ union, and just signed a nine year apprenticeship contract – when she finishes, she’ll have a minimum of 15 certifications. Her focus is now on flooring installation, but she plans to take many classes offered by the union, including doors, welding, scaffolding, and much more – but appreciates the focus and attention to detail needed in flooring. Once her contract is up, Nicole hopes to open her own construction business, and eventually give back to the community in another way, by opening a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in her North Philadelphia neighborhood.

In addition to setting a strong example for her daughter and younger sister, Nicole’s community has embraced her leadership. She humbly says “people come up to me all the time and tell me that they’re proud of me, of the things that I’ve done.” Recognizing her own unique path to construction, she’s eager to give back and provide opportunities for more young women when she eventually opens her own company.


#YBPhilly Stands Against Domestic Violence

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month. At YouthBuild Philly, a group of students displayed excellent leadership in organizing a “Purple Thursday” to help raise awareness for such an important message – particularly for young people.  Staff and students were encouraged to wear purple, and many signed pledges to stand against domestic violence.  Funds were raised for Women Against Abuse by students in the healthcare track, and they had the opportunity to present their donation at the non-profit’s headquarters in Center City.



Ms. Doris, who contributed to the campaign, said: “Domestic violence is a public health epidemic that affects 1 in 3 women across the U.S.  This is an issue that impacts you, your classmates, your family, your neighborhood, your workplace, and your community.”  She was excited by the students’ incredible efforts and all of the important conversations concerning domestic and dating violence taking place in YouthBuild spaces.


For more information about Domestic Violence visit

Service the YB Way

Service is a way of life here at YouthBuild Philly. On September 11, over 200 students and YB Philly staff members joined together for a day of service at Marie Dendy Playground (10th & Oxford) to clean up the park and the surrounding streets. Students picked up trash, swept sidewalks, planted trees and painted signs of inspiration to hang in the playground, giving the community a “facelift”.






Doing service the YB WAY!

Shonte Workman: A Budding Leader

Shonte Workman, is a member of YouthBuild Philly’s newest class: Class of 2018. Shonte has 100% attendance, and is a budding leader here at YouthBuild. We are excited to highlight Shonte’s YouthBuild journey this month!

What brought you to YouthBuild?

I wanted a second chance at life. I wanted my diploma, not my GED. I dropped out of school at 15 when I had my son, Micah. I was being home-schooled, and it was hard to maintain my grades.


What has your YouthBuild experience been like thus far?

I like YouthBuild a lot. I receive a lot of good feedback from my teachers and it’s very motivating. I feel very supported.

What are your future goals?

I want to get a scholarship so that I can go to college. My long term goal is to become a registered nurse.

Who inspires you?

My son Micah is my inspiration and motivation to achieve my goals. My older sister motivated me as well. (After a conversation with her older sister about her future and not having a diploma, she decided to apply to YB immediately after that conversation.)

What have been your biggest accomplishments at YouthBuild  so far?

  • Math: I never enjoyed math before, it was always my biggest struggle. Now, I am finally enjoying it. Thanks to Ms. Rebekah who really cares about her students. She allows everyone to learn at their own pace.
  • Getting along with peers. Before YouthBuild, I would isolate myself. Now I connect with my peers. We motivate each other. It’s a very supportive environment.
  • Simply being part of the Class of 2018! It feels exciting knowing that I’m on the road to getting my diploma. Each day is exciting to me because I know that I am one step closer to my goal.

Have you had any new experiences here at YouthBuild?

In Ms. Jody’s class, I had to get out of my comfort zone and present my auto-ethnography in front of the class. It’s helping me grow in public speaking. At YouthBuild, I’ve been given many chances to step up and be a leader.

If you could give a “shout out” to anyone at YouthBuild, who would it be?

(She couldn’t choose just one.)

  • Mr. Rich– He is always very helpful and encouraging.
  • Ms. Rebekah– She always provides me with helpful feedback on my work. I never used to receive positive feedback in school, and Ms Rebekah’s input makes me feel happy, like I’m doing something right.
  • Ms. Sharena– She always uplifts me when I’m down. She’s like my big sister, someone I look up to.
  • Mr. Pete– He always motivates me to go outside of my comfort zone, and when I listen to him I always get good results.
  • Mr. Ricky– He is encouraging and motivating.

Who are your favorite teachers?

Mr. Rich and Ms. Rebekah because they are so positive, and they helped me with my REACH forms.

What advice would you give to 16 year old Shonte?

Stay in school, don’t play around in hallways, and that you will never get wasted time back.

Would you recommend YouthBuild to someone else?

Yes, I never felt like this before at any school. Coming to YouthBuild was the best thing I’ve done in my life. It was a good decision.


Keep up the great work Shonte!

#YBPhilly Welcomes Ms. Jennifer!

Get to know Jennifer Carroll, our new Career Pathway Coordinator!

Here at YouthBuild we pride ourselves on having a team that’s committed to serving the best interests of our students. We are excited to welcome one of the newest additions to the YouthBuild Philly family, Jennifer Carroll, Career Pathway Coordinator. 

Jennifer, Philly native, tells us about her passion for working with young people, her long term goals for her time with YouthBuild, and her favorite cheesesteak spot.


What brought you to YouthBuild Philly?

I started my career as an AmeriCorps VISTA serving at University City High School doing college access work, supporting students with college preparation and post-secondary planning.  That experience solidified my passion for working with young people early in my career.  Since then, after getting my master’s degree, I’ve continued working in student support roles and have become interested in understanding the overarching goal we should have for our students; what is it that we want them to become?  What resources, guidance, and opportunities do we need to be able to provide them in order to support students and allow access to whatever it is that they envision for themselves in their future?  There are so many options for career pathways after high school; I believe it is valuable that these post-secondary options are made accessible to students.

How do you feel about working at YouthBuild?

I am excited to work with YouthBuild students because they are taking ownership of their education, they may have challenges to overcome, but they have made the inspiring decision to be hungry for the support and opportunities YouthBuild can provide.  This is the first space I’ve been in where it feels like the education is a partnership between staff and students.

What is exciting about this work environment?

There is so much possibility! This is a space that is open to new ideas and to thinking differently about educational approaches.  Our staff and administration seem to have a very thorough understanding of who our students are, both their strengths and challenges, this is so important when communicating with partners.  This dialogue and understanding allows our partnerships to be effective at meeting our youth where they are and helping to lift them up.

What are some of your long term goals for your time spent here at YouthBuild?

To bring intentionality to the way we are bringing post-secondary educational opportunities to our students.  It is important we help our young people really think through their choices and imbed a culture in our school that encourages students to take ownership of their futures and truly understand the flexibility of the options they have after graduation.  I hope to work with colleges in Philadelphia to create exciting spaces for our students, on their campuses and in their classrooms.  The goal of these spaces is to allow our students to explore their possibilities and gain a sense of agency and self-determination that will help them to succeed after leaving the support systems we provide here at YouthBuild Philadelphia.

Is there something interesting you are working on right now?

Today, I had three students starting their first college course at Community College of Philadelphia. This is really exciting because the course will provide them with three hours of college credit and expose them to higher education.  It’s exciting to see students hit the ground running so early into the year.

What are some of the challenges present in your work?

It is always difficult to help a student to build self-confidence and recognize their inherent resiliency.  I make sure students understand that they are just as deserving to be in certain spaces as anyone else;  they are just as capable. Students only have to put in the work and maintain that mindset.  The success comes when they can sustain that confidence even when they come up against obstacles and are challenged.

Best place to get a cheesesteak in Philly?

I’m from West Philly, so of course I have to say Larry’s near City Line Avenue.  I’d be foolish not to shout out the shop in the neighborhood I grew up in.

Favorite Hobbies?

Bicycling and Running.  I gained a new appreciation for Philly after picking up these hobbies.  There are so many amazing places in this city we drive by everyday, that when on a run, I get to see from a new vantage point!


Mental Toughness Training

More than 1000 (1022 to be exact) 18-20 year old youth, disconnected from their education, applied to YB Philly for the 2018 school year. 498 applicants were invited to join us for our annual Student Mental Toughness Training (MTT) that ran from August 23rd-August 30th.

MTT is 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.

On Day 1, 368 applicants showed up for MTT. The first day of MTT was exciting for both staff and students. Every day, students were greeted by YB Philly staff in the hallways with welcoming cheers, high fives, good music and snacks.

Each day of MTT, Director of Student Life, Ameen Akbar, lead a #villagemeeting that functioned as a time of reflection to set the tone for a successful day. On Days 1 and 2: He urged applicants to reflect on WHY they chose YouthBuild and WHAT Mental Toughness meant to them.


Day 3: Applicants attended the Class of 2017’s Commencement Ceremony, which served as a source of motivation for many of them.

Days 4 and 5: We focused on how to end MTT off strong!


Day 6: The final day of MTT applicants marched down Broad St. to 13th and Race in celebration of their decision to RECLAIM their education. Applicants shouted positive chants and carried signs stating “Let’s Get Educated.”  



The March concluded with a ceremony at the Hampton Inn (13th and Race), in which 228 applicants were officially enrolled into the Class of 2018! *BEST MOMENT EVER!* The new Class of 2018 was excited to say the least.

Popular local motivational speaker, Wallo 267, encouraged the students to always believe in themselves and to take charge of their future.


BIG Congrats to the Class of 2018 for getting through Mental Toughness Training! The best is yet to come.

New Beginnings: Class of 2017 Graduation

Graduation always brings about a great feeling here at YouthBuild Philly. On August 25th, Zion Baptist Church was filled with pride and joy as loved ones, YB Philly staff and supporters awaited the arrival of the Class of 2017.

Before students made their strides into the ceremony, Ameen Akbar, Director of Student Life, in a “basketball coach-like” fashion, gave them a ‘pep-talk’. He reminded them of their journey, obstacles, and how deserving they were of the moment. Needless to say, after his talk they were “graduation ready.”



As the ceremony began, an excitement (that can’t quite be put into words) filled the room. Once the first note of Pomp and Circumstance played, smiles widened and eyes teared up as 101 YB Philly graduates marched into the sanctuary.

Executive Director, Scott Emerick, opened up with an empowering welcome address reminding graduates that “YouthBuild did not transform your lives, YOU transformed your own lives.”


Keynote Speaker, Otis Hackney, Chief Education Officer, expressed his admiration of the graduates for pushing through and accomplishing their goals. He shared some of the obstacles that he faced along his journey to success. He advised graduates to “keep their community with them as they take control of their future”.


Key community partners were honored with awards for their support and dedication to the growth and advancement of YB Philly students:

Benjamin Trinsey, District Manager at Starbucks Coffee Company was presented the YouthBuild Legacy Award.

Angela Hendrix, Director of Education & Professional Development at the General Building Contractors Association was presented the YouthBuild Meaningful Impact Award.

Tesandra Cohen, Program Manager of This Way Ahead at the Gap Foundation was presented the YouthBuild Champion Award.


Graduates who exemplified the YouthBuild values (Respect, Excellence, Perseverance) throughout the year were recognized with student awards.

Staff received awards of appreciation based on Students’ Choice:

Willa Deitch, Language Arts Teacher

Ameen Akbar, Director of Student Life

Obioma Martin, Child Development Associate Instructor

Charmeka Davis, recipient of the YouthBuild Excellence award, shared that “despite her difficult journey, YouthBuild gave her the chance to display the excellence that was already instilled within.”

Salutatorian, Jamison Dugan, encouraged the Class of 2017 to “always be the BEST version of yourself.”


Valedictorian, Damany Daley, shared a speech urging graduates “to never forget that big things have small beginnings and we are very small today.”


Roland Davis performed an original song called “Looking Back” that reflected on Class of 2017’s journey.


The most exciting moment was the presentation of diplomas and the official announcement of the 2017 graduates! The sanctuary was filled with heartfelt cheers, tears of joy and an excitement that could not be contained.


For many, this was more than a graduation. It was a MAJOR accomplishment.



Congratulations Class of 2017!


Class of 2017 June Graduation Ceremony

On June 15th, we celebrated 13 Class of 2017 students who completed all of their requirements to earn their High School Diploma ahead of schedule. There are two more graduation ceremonies scheduled for this year – one in August and one in November.

It was standing room only in the CCR to celebrate these amazing young people.

At this intimate and personalized ceremony, the students could choose who presented them with their diplomas. The students chose teachers, vocational instructors, and other personal champions.

Two of these champions were members of the student’s family. Nicole chose her daughter to present her with her diploma.

Jamison chose his mother.

Congratulations to the Class of 2017 June graduates.