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!

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!


A Window of Hope for Hassan

YouthBuild Philly gives each student the unique supports and opportunities needed to change their future. Your support makes it possible for young people in Philadelphia to realize their full potential. 

Make a gift to the Annual Fund today.


Hassan’s Story:

When Hassan came to YouthBuild Philly in 2006, he had already attended several high schools, but had dropped out or been kicked out of each one because of his temper and impulse to fight. He was anxious about trying to go back to school after repeated disappointments, so he enrolled at YouthBuild at the same time as his sister to ease the transition.

What Hassan discovered, though, was that he already had “family” at YouthBuild, in the form of case managers and vocational instructors who were eager to support him as he worked to overcome his old mindset. Hassan enrolled in the selective Certified Nursing Assistant training track, and gained confidence and professional skills while interning at Mercy Hospital and volunteering at a Red Cross senior center.

Thanks to his valuable on-the-job training, Hassan found a job within two weeks of graduation and has excelled in his career thanks to the professional and communication skills he learned at YouthBuild. He is now a senior CNA at Shriner’s Hospital for Children in North Philadelphia and is the self-described “go-to guy” for his department due to not only his professional experience, but also his experience as a parent. He has a knack for “dealing with kids on a kid’s level,” he says, but plans to go back to school and eventually open his own home security business. “The sky’s the limit,” he says of his future.

As someone who came from a background where “there was so little hope,” Hassan encourages everyone to not give up on young people. Finding YouthBuild helped Hassan turn his life around and escape the streets. “Most of the people I grew up with are either dead or in jail,” he says, “and if not for YouthBuild, that could’ve been me; YouthBuild saved my life.”

Everyone deserves a second chance.  At YouthBuild Philly, we offer students the training and indidivual supports they need to make that second chance count.  Help another young person turn their life around by making a gift to YouthBuild today:


A Window of Opportunity for Jerome

a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.

YouthBuild Philly gives each student the unique supports and opportunities needed to change their future. Your support makes it possible for young people in Philadelphia to break out of the cycle of poverty and move forward with their lives.  

Make a gift to the Annual Fund today.


Jerome’s Story:

Jerome dropped out of high school during his junior year, when his mom got sick and lost her job. The oldest of four, he worked for a catering company so that his brothers could stay in school and his family could stay in their home. While he gladly took on this responsibility for his loved ones, Jerome never lost sight of where his career could take him if he went back to school.

As his mother recovered, Jerome resumed his education at YouthBuild Philly in 2013 and enrolled in the Greenbuild vocational training track. He and his squadmates deconstructed an abandoned rowhome to ready it for LEED-targeted renovation, and participated in the International Greenbuild Conference held in Philadelphia that year. Jerome quickly distinguished himself as a reliable, outgoing and intelligent young man and took on a leadership role within the Greenbuild team.

For Jerome to fully take advantage of his second chance, he needed an opportunity to show he was capable of contributing in a career setting. In the spring, that opportunity arose when Graboyes Commercial Window Company came to YouthBuild to replace the school’s windows. YouthBuild’s Director of Vocational Training recommended Jerome for an internship with Graboyes which quickly became a paid position.

Jerome’s career goal is to be a journeyman in the glaziers’ union, and the company is supporting and encouraging him to embark on that training process this year. “Thanks to YouthBuild and the opportunities they gave me,” Jerome says, “I went from having a dead-end job to now being at the very start of my dream career.”

Working to build a green home with his peers helped Jerome understand that he could play an active role in improving his community, through service as well as leadership and hard work. “When I first dropped out of school,” Jerome observes, “it was because I needed to support my family. Now, thanks to YouthBuild, I am not only able to support my family, but also my community.”

Every year, YouthBuild enrolls 220 students.  Each student has his or her own story, but all have one thing in common: whatever their past, whatever their obstacles, they’re ready to move forward with their lives. YouthBuild paves the way for young people’s dreams, and your support makes that possible.  

Make a gift today to give more students like Jerome the second chance they need and deserve:


Alumni Profile: Bria Jenkins, CDA ’14

“I really like what I do,” says Bria Jenkins.  She has just finished a 45-hour week as a preschool instructor at Right Steps education, but is still of energy – especially when it comes to talking about her job.  Thoughtfully and enthusiastically, she describes her roles and responsibilities as a co-teacher at the Center City childcare center.

For example, this week’s classroom theme is Winter, so all the activities – designed by Bria and her colleague to be developmentally appropriate – are centered on Winter topics.  Bria writes the lesson plan every other week, trading off with her co-teacher.  “We started around the same time together, so we built the classroom together. Everything in there is something we created together.”

Bria sent us photos from her classroom. “This is our morning circle area where we usually put the season on the wall. We practice our alphabet, go over the calendar, and pick our jobs every week.”

Bria has seventeen nephews and nieces, so she was already familiar with childcare at a practical and instinctual level before enrolling at YouthBuild.  However, she says, the program taught her important fundamentals in professionalism and child development.  “I’ve learned not to just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the children – now I explain the decision to them,” she says.  “It’s amazing to think about how much time we spend with the kids, who spend most of their waking hours with us.  We are responsible for what they do, what they learn, what they eat.  We have a huge impact on them.  It’s a big responsibility.”  Her favorite part of the job, she says, is hearing from parents about what lessons students have brought home – whether it’s math skills or eating new foods.  “They might not show it in the classroom,” she said, “but it’s enough to know they took it home.”

“Another recent theme was ‘New Year.’ The children made stars to represent how colorful their year would be.”

Bria explains that because of the winter, the students aren’t going on their daily morning walk to Rittenhouse Sqaure – but they still go in the afternoon when it’s warmer.  She laughs appreciatively as she describes how diligent her students are about holding on to the walking rope during these excursions.  “Even when they stumble a little,” she says, “you know they’ve still got their hand on the ring.”

Bria knows a thing or two about diligence herself. Before coming to YouthBuild, she worked at Bayada as a home health aide and thought that she would enroll in YouthBuild’s healthcare vocation track. When she heard about the Childhood Development Associate program, though, she realized that was a better fit for her because of her interest in working with children. Once in the program, she set her sights on success and securing employment. Her favorite field trips, she said, were the ones where the group visited actual childcare centers. “I wanted to see professionals doing what I was trying to become,” she explains. “I think my success comes from wanting it so badly.”

“Each student created and named their own snowman.”

Now that she is employed as an early childhood educator, Bria wants to use her limited free time (she works 2 evenings and 2 weekend mornings at another job) to enroll in college online.  Her plan is to continue studying early childhood education, so that she can eventually advance in the field.  “I see what our school director does and it interests me,” she explains. “She started as a kindergarten teacher, so why not me?”

Online learning works best for self-directed learners, and Bria is confident that this option is a good fit for her.  “I know I’m a dedicated person, so when I say I’m going to do something I know I’m going to do it.”

Bria Jenkins
Bria’s student photo from the Class of 2014 acceptance ceremony

Bria came to YouthBuild after her mother fell ill and she dropped out for over a year due to emotional distress.   “Then it took me a while to go back, because you don’t want to go back to school and face the fact that you dropped out,”  she explains. She reached a turning point after her birthday, however, when she realized that she was running the risk of becoming too old to earn a diploma. “I started evaluating myself and my situation, and asking myself ‘where can I go from here without completing my education?'” she recalls.  A friend told her about YouthBuild and they applied together to the program. (Bria’s mother is now recovered and well.)

At YouthBuild, Bria found supports and challenges that helped her fulfill her potential. “The close-knit family was inspiring to me,” she said, “and learning about leadership at YouthBuild made me step up and want to be more and be better.” She developed a close and positive relationship with Justine Philyaw, the CDA program coordinator, and engaged in friendly competition with one of her close friends and classmates to keep each other motivated.  In August, she graduated from YouthBuild. After interning with two other childcare facilities, Bria found a position at Right Steps – thanks to the friend with whom she was “competing.”

“This was our winter/Christmas classroom door. Each child had an ornament hanging from the door.”

As a recent graduate of YouthBuild Philly, Bria still receives postsecondary counseling and support from the school.  She is in regular contact with a postsecondary coordinator. “The followups make me feel good,” she says.  “Even though I have a supportive family, it’s good to know that someone’s still looking out for me and I know I can contact them.”  Just this week she contacted her postsecondary coordinator for advice on applying to online college programs.

“I really love YouthBuild,” she says. “If I could, I would go back and continue my education there.”

Graduation 2014: Highlights, Photos, and Speeches


On August 29, 122 YouthBuild students graduated in front of friends and family at a ceremony held in Zion Baptist Church’s sanctuary on North Broad Street.  Hundreds of guests attended, as well as Class of 2015 applicants currently going through Mental Toughness Training.

We were honored to welcome Marcus Allen, CEO of Big Brothers Bialleng Sisters SEPA (BBBSSEPA), as our keynote speaker this year. A strong proponent of service and mentoring, Mr. Allen thoughtfully included references to our students’ individual accomplishments as community leaders.  Prior to joining BBBSSEPA, Mr. Allen was the CEO of ACHIEVEability, a non-profit that provides housing – which YouthBuild students help maintain.

April Broaddus, Class of 2005, delivered a rousing alumni address encouraging graduates to be proud of their pathway through YouthBuild, and to recognize past setbacks as opportunities.

Don’t think that just because you didn’t take the traditional path in your education that you can’t go as far as anyone else. At YouthBuild, our core values make us that much stronger! Don’t think it stops here. Don’t limit yourself because you’re afraid to compete or fail! People who stumble can still be incredibly successful. Michael Jordan lost many a game before the Bulls hit their winning streak! The Beatles, one of the greatest selling groups of all time, were turned down by a record company because they didn’t like the sound and style of their music. Walt Disney was fired from his job as a cartoon artist because they said he lacked creativity. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, was on welfare when she wrote some her best work to date! You’re gonna stumble. You’re gonna fall. You’re gonna have to work twice as hard as you did while you were here. But it’s worth it!

Broaddus is a Rosemont College graduate and now has her own online radio show.  (We also learned just prior to the ceremony that she went through ACHIEVEability’s program after graduating from YouthBuild, which made it all the more fitting for her and Mr. Allen to speak this year.)

This year’s student speakers were Perseverance Award Winner Tania Garcia, Valedictorian Jamal Johnson, and Salutatorian Carmen Williams. 

Tania wrote her speech, which we’ve excerpted here, about resilience:

Today I am here standing not just for my accomplishments, but I am also standing with the rest of the YouthBuild student body that showed perseverance by taking back our education.tania

My words to the Mental toughness applicants are, “Don’t Give Up!” I know that’s what everyone says, but really, Do Not  Give Up. You will understand the importance of these words in a year when you graduate. A lot of people told me not to give up and it wasn’t always what I wanted to hear, but I’m so glad they reminded me every time they saw me.

To the 2014 YouthBuild students: I hope that our friendships don’t end here. I also hope that we all remember this chapter of our lives as a great example of our ability to overcome.

Jamal’s speech included shout-outs to fellow students who have demonstrated YouthBuild’s core values:

Living life along the “YouthBuild Way” has been an inspirational experience for me, as well as all my peers throughout this past year. I am reminded often of the hills, valleys and winding roads along the way that we faced individually and collectively, but here we are Class of 2014. We’re not completely at our destination, but we’re merely at a pit-stop. This pit-stop is for us to refuel and continue on to the path that has been destined for us. We have exemplified YouthBuild Philly’s core values of Respect, Excellence and Perseverance, not only academically, but socially.

This year has been a an emotional roller coaster for me, but I have been willing to give up sleep and many other things to be able to finish my projects, essays, and other requirements to be here to graduate with you all today and I know many of you all have that same similar experiences as well. The importance to post-secondary endeavors has been instilled in us to transition to college or employment, because we want that high school diploma and vocational training. We want to be successful, self-sufficient young entrepreneurs.

Finally, Carmen’s speech acknowledged the hard work ahead.  She compared herself to the Wingohocking St. house that she and other construction students were in the process of renovating this year, and put on her hard hat during her speech as a symbol of her ability to rebuild her own life and the world around her:

When I arrived at the Wingohocking Project, handed this unfamiliar yellow piece of plastic, I noticed I had two things in common with the house we were about to build: we were both broken and yet we both had the potential to be restored. This house and I were ridged materials, skeletons of who we had been designed to be left unoccupied, un-loved, and un-kempt.  It was there, in that abandoned home, that I openly expressed pain for the first time. I never wanted to face reality. Reality meant my parents were never coming back from the grave and life would not cradle a lost cause. But it was in this place, in remnants of what was once a child’s bedroom, that I saw a reflection of who I wanted to become.


The epiphany that we were a product of ourselves and not our environment was real and perhaps harsh. Our team had two options; we could allow life the satisfaction of completing its work of demolition or we could take control and reconstruct. For me, that meant giving up what I wanted; fast money, and false happiness for what I needed: Stability. Love. To know I had value. I had to remove the excess debris because building anything takes time, patience, and the removal of things that stand in your way.

Today I stand before you wearing yet another hat — my graduation cap. Today is a day to celebrate but let’s also remember that we are all still works in progress, all of us. Which is why we still need our hard hats. I cannot condone the cliché speech that everything will be alright if you try. Class of 2014, we need one another. Life will continue to throw obstacles our way. Whether we’re physically together or not, we will continue to wake up each day and put on our tool belts, reconstructing lives one nail, stud, and door frame at a time.

At the ceremony, we were pleased to award scholarships to twelve graduates, thanks to individuals who gave to the Class of 2014 Scholarship Fund.  The Young Friends of YouthBuild Philly raised an entire scholarship at a bowling fundraiser last month, which went to De’Shaun Burton.  Carmen Williams received the John Gallery Leadership Scholarship.  The families of  Steven Lawrence and Sean Bolden – former YouthBuild students who, sadly, passed away a few years ago – also raised funds for scholarships, which went to Jamal Johnson, Quadier Timms, and Malik Robinson.

The ceremony was also an opportunity to thank our supporters in the community.  We recognized the following individuals for their extraordinary efforts on behalf of YouthBuild students:

  • Champion Award – Carmen Ferrigno, VP of Communications at Saint-Gobain North America
  • Legacy Award – Makeeda Holley, Director of Workforce Development at 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund
  • Meaningful Impact Award – Hope Clayton, Admissions Counselor at Esperanza College

To see more photos from graduation, visit our Facebook photo album.  NewsWorks and ABC6 also covered the event!

Introducing Year 2 (What’s Next for 2014)


Although our alumni will be employed and enrolled with organizations outside of YouthBuild, we will continue to offer supports and programming (e.g., TransPasses and counseling) that officially constitute a “Year 2” of our program while our graduates adjust to postsecondary education and employment. This  year of continued support will help them transition fully and smoothly into colleges and careers to achieve long-term success.

So don’t worry, you’ll still be hearing from the Class of 2014 as they embark on their next steps over the course of Year 2! Stay tuned for success stories and updates.

Photos: Thaddeus Stevens College 2014 Commencement

Did you know that YouthBuild Philly has not one but two Classes of 2014?  We’re not referring to the early diploma ceremony for Jerome and Aaron last month – and not to our tradition of holding two graduation ceremonies in August and November – but rather to the  many YouthBuild alumni graduating from college this year. With graduation season fully in swing, we congratulate all of the outstanding men and women who have come through YouthBuild and gone on to complete a postsecondary degree.


This weekend, YouthBuild graduates Sean Keel ’11 and Marquis Williams ’11 graduated from Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology.  Director of Postsecondary Career Development Michael Imperato and IT & Business Administration Coordinator Melissa Jackson attended the ceremony and shared pictures of the graduates on their special day: