Graduation 2014: Highlights, Photos, and Speeches

ceremony

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.

10604590_588094724633502_7568133627331447768_o

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)

year2

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.

Designing a Green Home

Today YouthBuild Philly’s Advanced Construction and Green Build squads met with project partners at a design charrette for this year’s LEED-targeted renovations on Wingohocking St. in Nicetown.  The Advanced Construction and Green Build students will be the primary groups working to renovate two adjoining and abandoned properties into comfortable, sustainable and affordable homes.  (You can view photos of the properties in their current state here and here.)

Some of you may be wondering what a “charrette” is (we certainly were!).  Its contemporary usage in the world of architecture and design means a collaborative design process.  But why is it called a charrette?  Lucas Hamilton from CertainTeed filled us in this morning with an interesting history of the word: In the early days of modern architectural education, students in France used to submit their 3-D models to their professors by way of a cart (or charrette, in French!) that traveled through the streets of Paris.  Students would work together up until the cart’s arrival – and sometimes travel with the cart if they weren’t done yet! – to put the finishing touches on their design.

Image

The focus of today’s charrette was on creating a LEED-eligible home, built responsibly to support the natural environment and sustain a healthy indoor environment as well.  Students learned about sustainable building practices and products through presentations from Sustainable Solutions and CertainTeed.

Image

In the afternoon, students and staff broke up into groups to discuss design elements that would qualify the building for LEED certification based on the six-category rating system.  For example, students researched water-efficient plants, fixtures and appliances to consider when finishing the property.  The last home that we renovated in conjunction with Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed received LEED Platinum Certification, and we are optimistic that the Wingohocking homes will receive certification as well!

It was exciting for our students to learn about and participate in the process of sustainable design. We are grateful to everyone who joined us for making this a meaningful and invigorating learning opportunity.

Our timeline for the project is such that the same YouthBuild students who are planning this renovation will see it through to completion and the ribbon-cutting ceremony – i.e., from idea to reality. Keep checking back for updates on Wingohocking St. as we move into the renovation stages this year!

Welcoming the Class of 2014

August is always the busiest and most exciting month at YouthBuild Philly, in part because our students are about to graduate and matriculate into new chapters of their journey – e.g., college, trade school, employment.  At the exact same time, however, high school dropouts interested in YouthBuild start to “drop in” and initiate the process of reclaiming their education with us.

What this means is that while we were getting ready for the Class of 2013’s graduation ceremony last month, we were also welcoming hundreds of final-stage applicants to join us for Mental Toughness, a 2-week series of workshops enabling the most motivated applicants to try out YouthBuild’s program and find out whether it would be a good fit for them.  Applicants participating in Mental Toughness 2013 also attended the 2013 graduation ceremony on August 31st.

Less than a week later, those same applicants marched down Broad Street in a peaceful demonstration of their commitment to education and a brighter future for themselves and their community.  Applicants created signs that reflected their adoption of YouthBuild’s core values, and their identities as motivated young people and change makers willing to work hard for success.

We were so thrilled to have the support of the pedestrians and drivers who shared their support by waving and honking at our applicants and staff!  We hope that everyone was as proud of and inspired by our students as we are.

The march went from YouthBuild Philly’s building at Broad and Thompson to the Hampton Inn at 13th and Race.  Once inside the hotel’s ballroom, applicants learned that they had been accepted into YouthBuild Philadelphia.  Here’s a (shortened) video of their reaction.

A_IMG_4008

Although we we might express it differently, we definitely feel similar elation and hope for our incoming class.  They are now starting their second week of academic and vocation classes, and off to a great start!  Please join us in congratulating them on the steps they’ve taken to reclaim their education and transform their lives.

Celebrating the Page 2 Stage Vol.2 Book Launch!

IMG_1286

Yesterday was AmeriCorps Member and Community Project Coordinator Sara Graybeal’s last day at YouthBuild – and, she said, she couldn’t think of a more appropriate place to be than in the CCR (YB lingo lesson: that’s the Community Celebration Room) with students and alumni who have participated in the slam poetry group Page 2 Stage.

Sara founded Page 2 Stage as an after-school activity nearly two years ago, when the Class of 2012 was just settling in at YouthBuild. Students in the group participated in writing and other creative exercises, rehearsed their pieces, and regularly attended events hosted by the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement and other spoken-word groups in the city.

In just a few months the group grew from five to twenty students, who met regularly during the week and also on weekends for workshops and literary events.  When some students moved to Lancaster, PA for the summer to attend the Thaddeus Stevens College summer bridge program, Sara took the train to visit them and hold workshops.

At the end of the 2011-2012 school year the group published a chapbook of poems through 2 Pens & Lint, a local press that emphasizes the change-making power of art.

The group was so popular with students that in the following academic year it became an elective in YouthBuild’s academic curriculum, as well as an after-school activity.  Sara signed up for a second year as a YouthBuild AmeriCorps member, and in her second year applied for and was awarded a Bob Costas Grant for the Teaching of Writing, which she used to pay for workshops for students and to fund the publication of a second chapbook.

Which brings us back to yesterday.  The new volume hot off the presses, Sara put together a book launch and poetry reading that alumni, students, staff, friends and family attended.  Guests enjoyed food, cake, and music deejayed by student Larry.  Students cheered and snapped their fingers for their classmates as they read from the publication.  Some staff shared their own original work, too!

The poems were diverse in tone and subject – personal, political, outraged, loving, clever, uplifting – but all were heartfelt and honest.  We applaud our students for their bravery and creativity, and thank them for sharing their work with those of us lucky enough to attend.

We also want to thank Sara for bringing Page 2 Stage to life and helping it grow over the past two years.  She is an exceptional teacher and will be missed, but we are optimistic that slam poetry and creative writing will live on at YouthBuild in the years to come – so stay tuned!

IMG_1276

If you would like to purchase a $5 copy of the Page 2 Stage Vol. 2 chapbook, it is available on the 2 Pens and Lint website!  Proceeds benefit YouthBuild Philly.

photo (2)

YouthBuildStudent Honored for National Service in Citywide Ceremony

66820_10151535129269916_330622103_nEarlier this year, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter announced to his colleagues at the U.S. Conference of Mayors that April 9, 2013 would mark the first-ever Mayors Day of Recognition for National Service in cities across the country. This celebration – led by Mayor Nutter as well as the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) – was envisioned as a way for mayors to highlight the impact of national service being done by citizens, AmeriCorps members, and SeniorCorps members in their community. (Click here to watch Mayor Nutter discuss the Day of Recognition on MSNBC’s Morning Joe – jump to 00:59 for the interview).

YouthBuild Philly provided the location for the Mayor’s celebration in Philadelphia, organized by the Mayor’s Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service. The highlight of the ceremony featured the announcement of Mayor’s Awards for Distinguished Service, recognizing AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps members and alumni in Philadelphia for their commitment to serving their community.

We were excited to nominate YouthBuild student and AmeriCorps member Dominique Brown. Community Projects Coordinator (and full-time AmeriCorps member) Zuri Stone wrote Dominique’s nomination letter, noting that

552657_10151535127974916_840263773_n
Zuri and Dominique

Dominique’s long term goal is to go to college and become a social worker. Her life experiences and service involvement have transformed her into a caring person, with a passion now to make sure no child goes through what she has gone through and that no struggling individual is left to fend for themselves…

…The thing about Dominique that further distinguishes her from others that are doing service often is her inquisitiveness. There is a curiosity in her mind to not only help others, but to understand the deeper meaning behind the issues themselves. She never accepts her service as a shallow one-time event, rather she inquires on the history of those she works with as well as the root of the issues they are facing. After attending the AIDS Walk with YouthBuild, she later suggested that we support more walks and eventually she help us coordinate our participation in the Alzheimer’s Walk.

There is no doubt in my mind that Dominique is the most deserving candidate for this award. She is taking her life experiences and transforming them into a positive movement to help her community. It has been an honor to know Dominique as a student and I cannot wait to see her growth into a college campus activist and furthermore into a personal activist for each and every one of her clients as a social worker.

Dominique was selected as an outstanding nominee by the award committee, and had the opportunity to meet high-profile champions of national service – U.S. Senator Harris Wofford, CNCS CEO Wendy Spencer (who, in her remarks, called Philadelphia the “City of National Service Love.” We hope the nickname sticks!), Deputy Mayor and Managing Director Richard Negrin, and, of course, Mayor Nutter.

548916_10151535129739916_525785131_nAt the end of the ceremony, Mayor Nutter announced the final award-winners, and Dominique received the Mayor’s Award for Distinguished National Service!

We’d like to congratulate Dominique on her well-deserved award, as well as the other winners and outstanding nominees. We thank Mayor Nutter for his commitment to service and leadership in instituting the Mayors Day of Recognition, and thank the Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service for organizing this event! Service is at the core of YouthBuild’s program and values, and we were honored to help host a ceremony recognizing service and its best exemplars at our school!

Check out our Facebook photo album for more photos from this exciting day!

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

GreenBuild Groundbreaking on Greene Street

YouthBuild USA President and Founder Dorothy Stoneman thanks our partners

YouthBuild Philadelphia hosted a groundbreaking event to to launch the national partnership between YouthBuild USA, Saint-Gobain, the world’s largest building materials company, and its North American subsidiary CertainTeed. As part of the partnership, YouthBuild Philadelphia will receive $100,000 in pass-through grants over the next three years to engage students in learning green building techniques and build energy-efficient affordable housing.

The event at YouthBuild’s new GreenBuild project on Greene St. in Germantown kicked off with the YouthBuild Philadelphia Student Pledge, led by students Sean Humphrey, Amir Johnson, Jasmine Myers, Kenneth Watkins, Kahnyqua Weems, and Jermaine Williams.

Executive Director Simran Sidhu acted as Master of Ceremony for a full roster of speakers, including:

Student Speakers, Lamar Lincoln and Amber Allen
  • Gilles Colas, president and CEO of Saint-Gobain
Student Donnell Simmons and YouthBuild Philadelphia Board member Check Esser

Over 200 YouthBuild Philadelphia students and staff joined friends — including partners from Philadelphia’s Office of Housing and Community Development, the  Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency, Community College of Philadelphia, and CareerLink — to celebrate the groundbreaking of the rehabilitation project.

The long-vacant, dilapidated property will be transformed into an energy efficient two-family home for a first-time homebuyer. Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed will be providing energy-efficient products, building science, technical expertise, and employee volunteers  to support the project, which will work toward LEED certification from the US Green Building Council.

Watch a video of highlights from the event:

Online Media Coverage:
Philly.com, A greening on Greene Street
NewsWorks (WHYY), Blight goes green on Greene Street