Black lives matter, now and always

Dear YouthBuild Philly Supporters:

ALL Black Lives Matter in our school, in our community and in our world. This truth is foundational to our shared YouthBuild community and to our shared humanity. 

This has been a very intense and traumatic time for YouthBuild Philly, especially as our community cannot physically connect to embrace and affirm each other as we mourn the loss of life, celebrate the work of advocates, and fight together against injustice. Nonetheless, we remain committed to our core values of Respect, Excellence and Perseverance. Our core values will ground our work as a school and our work against racism. Racist systems were built by people. New equitable systems must be rebuilt by people in communities like ours and by leaders like the young people graduating from YouthBuild.

YouthBuild Philly students, alumni, staff, Board of Trustees and partners represent a range of racial and social identities. For 28 years in Philly and for 42 years globally, the YouthBuild movement has been committed to racial equity from our earliest roots in the Civil Rights Movement; however, we have much more work to do to become much more actively anti-racist. 

While our social identity work considers a range of intersecting identities (gender, race, class, sexuality, ability, etc.), we have prioritized conversations about race and racism. Approximately 90 percent of the 2020 graduating class of YouthBuild Philly identifies as Black, with 99 percent of our overall enrollment identifying as persons of color. Our work as educators and as learners is to more directly fight against the racism that traumatizes our students and perpetuates white supremacy. Anti-racism work must be central in our classrooms, on our worksites, in our service activities and with all of our partners.

Over the last three years, our internal social identities working group (11 staff members representing all YouthBuild departments) has helped lead our work on race and identity focused on three primary goals:

  • Developing shared language and common frameworks for continuing conversations about how our social identities and the systems that shape our society impact our work.
  • Preparing staff to have conversations with students and alumni about how social identities impact their journey at YouthBuild and especially with partners.
  • Staying grounded in the original vision of YouthBuild, which focuses on social justice.

We will continue to improve our racial literacy in ways that improve our relationships with students, our instructional practices, our curriculum, our restorative practices, our partnerships with employers and postsecondary institutions and our internal human resource practices. Toward that end, candidates for positions at YouthBuild Philly will participate in specific interviews focused on our social identities priorities. Onboarding and performance review processes will more explicitly and consistently focus on our social identities priorities, in addition to an on-going assessment of our workplace practices to ensure alignment with these priorities.

Our work toward justice, equity and anti-racism has not been perfect and is certainly not anywhere near complete. We’ve benefited greatly from close collaboration with The Lion’s Story, an organization committed to expanding literacy around social identities and dismantling systemic racial oppression. This work is not only about becoming better educators, but also about becoming better human beings.

As we all mourn together the tragedy of thousands of Black people murdered in and by a racist system, YouthBuild Philly strongly encourages our supporters to educate themselves and take action against racism in America, because racism is EVERYONE’S problem

Thank you for joining us in the fight against racism.

In Solidarity,

YouthBuild Philadelphia Senior Leadership Team
Scott Emerick, Executive Director
Adesanya Karade, Chief Finance & Operations Officer
Meredith Molloy, Chief Development Officer
Dannyelle Austin, Senior Program Director
Tiffany Doyle, Senior Human Resources Director

YouthBuild Philadelphia Executive Committee, Board of Trustees
Melanie McCottry, Chair, Board of Trustees
Marty Brigham, Vice-Chair, Board of Trustees
Khalilah Lawson, Chair, Governance Committee, Board of Trustees
Jim Mergiotti, Chair, Finance Committee, Board of Trustees
David Thomas, Chair, Program Committee, Board of Trustees
Nicole Connell, Secretary, Board of Trustees
Kiley Smith Kelly, Chair, Fundraising Committee, Board of Trustees

A Letter from Our Executive Director

Dear YouthBuild Philadelphia Community Members and Friends:

Internationally and now in our region, the spread of COVID-19 has caused great concern for public health and education systems. YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School has closely monitored the health and safety of our school community. We are thankful to report that there have been no known cases among our students, staff or alumni.

In coordination with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Philadelphia Department of Health and Human Services, and The School District of Philadelphia, YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School has made the determination to close our physical school building through at least June 18, 2020.

To continue to support our students and ensure they remain on track for graduation, we have made some adjustments to our school calendar and instructional model during this two week period. YouthBuild Philadelphia’s Spring Break, originally scheduled for April 6-10, has been rescheduled for March 16-20. Beginning on March 23, students will have access to daily live video instruction led by academic teachers and workforce development instructors. Those who are unable to participate in this instruction due to technology limitations will be provided independent work packets and reading. 

All elective courses, extracurricular activities, school-sponsored trips, and service events during this time have been postponed indefinitely or canceled. Students will continue to receive attendance credit on days that they participate in virtual instruction, and their AmeriCorps service terms will be put on hold for the duration of this virtual learning period.

Students facing barriers or challenges will be provided with a list of resources to aid in barrier removal and success during this time. To the extent possible, we will continue to provide mental health services, financial supports, food access, transportation and other support services throughout the time our building is closed.

Click link below to view our Continuity of Education Plan:

Our decision to close was not made lightly. We have been in constant direct contact with public health and education officials across the city and state, and are following the lead of The Philadelphia School District and Pennsylvania Department of Education in making this determination.

Finally, we encourage those impacted or potentially impacted by the spread of COVID-19 to take necessary precautions to maintain a healthy community: practice good personal hygiene by washing or sanitizing hands, avoid large gatherings and confined spaces, and avoid social interaction altogether if you are sick. For a full list of recommendations for avoiding COVID-19 exposure, please visit The City of Philadelphia’s COVID-19 resource page. We will continue to monitor COVID-19 and will provide any significant updates when relevant. 

Thank you very much for your support of YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School. We appreciate your commitment to our program, and your understanding as we navigate this pressing public health concern.

Sincerely,

Scott Emerick
Executive Director
YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School

2nd Annual Student Showcase

March 4— YouthBuild Philly hosted our 2nd Annual Student Showcase as a chance for students to share their gifts, talents and lessons learned throughout the school year with a community of new and long-time supporters of YouthBuild. Our Class of 2020 took full ownership of the showcase with an action-packed agenda created, hosted and led by them.

The show opened up with an energetic welcome from three hosts of the evening: Kaeem Baker, Ana Cortes and Joe Miller. Each host commanded the audience’s attention with their quick wit and charisma in between each performance.

Some show highlights included:

Jordan Jackson’s presentation of her Senior Project on her career aspiration of being a cosmetologist, a project she has been working on for weeks. During her presentation she visually displayed the process that goes into creating a styled wig cap. Through her presentation, the audience learned more about her cosmetology journey and the art and science behind various hairstyles.

Nicolas Bailey’s presentation of his personal art collection left the audience nothing short of impressed. He also shared about his most recent victory claiming 2nd place in individual and team standings in a K-12 open Checkmate Violence tournament hosted by Philly After School Activities Partnerships (ASAP). Nick also encouraged the audience to continuously jump out of their comfort zones and learn something new. “If you want to learn something new, try and learn something new,” says Nicholas.

Timir Hennie presented a memoir from his Language Arts class recounting a post-incarceration experience. Timir also shared a film from his film-making enrichment class with collaborative partner, Big Picture Alliance. The film showcased the storytelling and creative skills of Timir and his classmates.

GreenBuild students Chad Hardy, Imir Gadson, and Hamir Farris took the audience on a mini-walking tour to showcase all that they are learning about the green building industry in class with Mr. George.

Ana Cortes did a freehand painting to a song that she wrote and pre-recorded herself!

Shantell shared personal artwork that complimented her “Where I’m From” poem from Language Arts class that she recited to explain her experience as a resident of Philadelphia.

Display of paintings from Arts Expression Class led by YB staff members Ms. Aletta and Ms. Nina:

YouthBuild Philly Board Member and Fundraising Committee Chair, Kiley Smith Kelly, closed out the show with a big “thank you” to everyone that came out to support and made the evening a success!

The evening ended with a post-show opportunity for students to mingle and network with all guests in attendance.

See slideshow below for more photos from the event:

Shout out to the Class of 2020 for inspiring us all to be lifelong learners!

If you were not able to join us for this wonderful evening, but still would like to support YouthBuild students, click here to donate! All proceeds will directly benefit student enrichment activities.

MLK Day of Service- #YBserves at Stephen Girard Elementary School

January 20, 2020— For the YouthBuild Philly community, MLK Day represents a day of service, reflection and impact, rather than a day off. In honor of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., more than 200 YouthBuild Philly students, alumni, staff and community partners joined together to revitalize the hallways of Stephen Girard Elementary in South Philadelphia. YouthBuild Philly’s team of AmeriCorps Community Project Coordinators spearheaded the project for the eighth consecutive year, which included more than 60 murals of inspirational quotes and images that are guaranteed to brighten up the day of students for years to come. The day kicked off with a Village Meeting and time of reflection on the importance of service and Dr. King’s impact, with a profound reminder that “everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.” 

Take a look at some photos of everyone working together and putting service into action:

After a full day of teamwork, hallways, staircases and bathroom stalls of Stephen Girard Elementary are graced with motivational messages and vibrant images that will serve has gentle reminders to students of the bright futures ahead of them. See below for photos of some of the finished products:

Leah Coleman, Principal of Stephen Girard Elementary was especially grateful for YouthBuild Philly’s partnership with the school. “This is going to be an amazing opportunity for our students to walk into a fresh welcoming school environment. Our goal is always to make school as safe and comfortable for students as possible. This is something that’s just going to liven up their experience here, and make this school something that they are proud to be a part of.” Coleman added, “we wanted it to be something that’s reflective of the students and their interests. All of the quotes and images are small things that will keep the students going throughout the day. Ultimately, the students are going to be excited to see something that’s bright and colorful, as opposed to our walls which were kind of empty and bare.” School staff should appreciate the upgrades as well; “our teachers have been working very hard to liven up the building, and this is something that was an awesome support to our school and will help to move that work further along in a much quicker way. We’re excited about that,” Ms. Coleman says.

Days like MLK Day, would not be possible without the continued support of our community partners. Thanks to Saint-Gobain, Old Navy, Chase, DMi Partners and Young Friends of YouthBuild Philadelphia for joining us for an incredible day of impact. Special thanks to the Benjamin Moore Foundation for donating the paint and the local paint supplier (Colomy Paint & Decorating LLC. 210 W. Girard Ave. Philadelphia, PA) for supplying all of the paint for the day’s project. YouthBuild Philly appreciates you!

See below for more photos from the day of service:

#YBserves

Class of 2019: November Graduation

November 25, 2019—YouthBuild Philly celebrated our most recent graduating class of 29 students with a commencement ceremony at Zion Baptist Church. November graduates have shown remarkable perseverance throughout the school year and are a true testament to YouthBuild Philly’s core values of Respect, Excellence, and Perseverance. 

The event was attended by staff members, loved ones and supporters who were thrilled to celebrate this major milestone with the graduates. The ceremony kicked off with opening remarks from the Director of Student Life, Zuri Stone, and Executive Director, Scott Emerick. 

Following these remarks, four graduates who were voted on by staff and fellow students received special awards, the REP awards and the YB Way award. The REP awards are given to students who personify the core values of YouthBuild. 

The Respect Award was given to Jamile Walker for demonstrating high regard for the opinions of others, the Excellence Award was given to Erica Wiggins for demonstrating work of outstanding quality, and the Perseverance Award was given to Jamilliah Willis for demonstrating the ability to not give up easily, and to pursue success despite opposition or discouragement. The YouthBuild Way Award is given to a student who cooperates with other students and is willing to work together towards a common goal. This year, the YB Way award was given to Jadah Celestine who was also voted on by her peers to be the student speaker. 

The awards ceremony was followed by words of encouragement from Social Studies teacher, Anthony Smith, and student speaker Jadah Celestine. 

Lastly, the ceremony concluded with  graduates receiving their diplomas. Every graduate selected a loved one and/or staff member that supported them throughout the year to present their diploma to them. Graduates officially became #YBMade with the ones who mean the most to them. 

Shout out to the Class of 2019! Your perseverance continues to serve as an inspiration to us all.

#YBMade19

See below for a slideshow of more photos from the ceremony:

Everything Comes Full Circle #YB360

YouthBuild Philly’s updated mission statement refers to graduates as “critically conscious leaders, committed to positive change for themselves and their communities.” This statement reflects the commitment we make to support the growth of learners beyond earning a diploma and vocational certification. Read on to learn about three YouthBuild Philly alumni who have grown tremendously beyond their time at YouthBuild and have brought their YB experience full circle as they continue to work with a YouthBuild partner, as a YouthBuild partner, or at YouthBuild itself. We hope you enjoy learning more about the journeys of Dana (’92), Crystal (’17), and Isaiah (’15).

Dana ’92

Dana (Class of 1992, YouthBuild’s first graduating class) attended two high schools before discovering YouthBuild with the help of a guidance counselor. He left his first school after a series of fights with other students at a time when Philadelphia’s neighborhood rivalries were especially heightened.

His father, a youth pastor and small business owner, gave Dana a choice. “My dad said I could either stay in school or work with him in his poultry shop” – Dana chose the latter, though his time there was brief. He re-enrolled in school, this time at one in his own neighborhood, but knew from his start there that he’d graduate a year behind his same-age peers due to his time away from school.

YouthBuild Philly got off the ground the summer after Dana’s 11th grade year, and at the time catered to young people just like him who were not on track to graduate on-time. His guidance counselor at Bartram High School contacted him – “she asked me ‘do you still want to graduate on-time?’ and told me about a new program that would give me that chance, as well as provide training in carpentry.” Next thing he knew, Dana was interviewing with early YouthBuild staff, and even founding Board members, to get a feel for the school. 

Dana weighed his options and decided to take the leap into YouthBuild, and from the start became a leader, participating in the school’s Youth Caucus alongside staff to determine climate and culture aspects of the new school. In this year at YouthBuild, Dana also met instructor Don Pinkney, who he remains close to today – “Don just makes me more committed to lifelong learning; he has such a calming and relaxing presence.”

Immediately upon graduation, Dana began his career as a laborer and has made numerous professional relationships which he still holds closely today. Now working as a Maintenance Supervisor with Friends Rehabilitation Program (FRP), Dana has been able to bring his time at YouthBuild back full circle – this time as a workforce development partner. 

Much has changed at YouthBuild Philly since that summer of 1991, but our commitment to youth success in the community has held strong. YouthBuild Philly’s GreenBuild track is now working on an FRP-owned abandoned mansion in West Philadelphia, rehabbing the property for multi-family residential use in the near future. In working with YouthBuild Philly, Dana’s commitment to the next generation and Philadelphia’s future has grown even stronger, as he realizes “the young man or woman you’re investing in today will very likely be the leader you need tomorrow” – and he himself is a walking example of this.

Crystal ’17

Crystal (Class of 2017) had a good job and felt financially secure before applying to YouthBuild, and didn’t think she’d follow through on enrollment. In the month before Mental Toughness Training, however, things turned upside down when the family member she was living with was evicted from their apartment. “I lost everything – I only had the clothes on my back, which I wore for a week,” she recalls. To make matters worse, she lost her job while trying to sort out her housing issues; this drove home that it was time to go back to school and build a career.

Upon enrollment, Crystal faced family issues that impacted her attendance. “For my first session, my attendance was 32%; the second was 54%,” she remembers vividly. Through these struggles, her mentor Ms. Jackie kept pushing her – “she supported me outside of school, and even helped after hours – that was a huge impact on me.” Once her family issues were resolved, she poured herself into school – “I was happy to come – I stayed until 6 pm most days.” Crystal’s resilience paid off – she had over 90% attendance in her final session.

Crystal’s support team turned out in a big way for graduation, creating one of her favorite YouthBuild memories. “My grandmother told me my mom wasn’t going to be able to make it, but as I walked across the stage, I looked up and saw her, and just had this huge smile on my face” – a smile which has since been made into a poster that hangs outside Crystal’s old healthcare classroom. Immediately after graduation, Crystal enrolled in a training program to become a patient service representative. She enjoyed her experience, but realized near the end that the role didn’t suit her outgoing personality, and left on good terms – “my supervisor told me to come back any time, and joked that I’d eventually have her job if I did.”

In 2018, Crystal was given a chance to participate in a training program with TD Bank that exposed alumni to various opportunities within the bank. Right from the start, she felt comfortable – “we got to visit many locations and learn about the whole business – from the call center, to tellers, to corporate offices – and decide what was right for us.” After this eye-opening process, Crystal knew that TD would fit her personality and career aspirations, and enrolled in an intensive teller training program. 

Crystal is now employed at one of TD’s highest volume stores in the region, and has excelled in less than a year in the role. She was recently promoted to full-time hours, and also graduated from the bank’s Tomorrow’s Leaders program – an honor earned by only 15 employees across the region each year. She describes the training as “just what it sounds like – gaining skills to grow as leaders in our line of business.” In meetings with her current store manager, Crystal is praised for her time management, work ethic, and customer service, which TD describes as providing a “legendary experience.” Hoping to one day become a store manager herself, Crystal emphasizes that she wants to hire more YouthBuild alumni – “the school has given me so much that I feel like I have to share these opportunities.”

Isaiah ’15

Isaiah (Class of 2015) faced challenges and frustration from the start of his time in high school. Transitioning from middle school to high school, he felt lost because of larger class sizes, distractions in and out of the classroom, and more difficult work. He left after just two weeks, and tried private and online schools before giving up on school during his 9th grade year.

He felt “stuck in life” but maintained with the help of family and friends. When this support system would recommend alternative options, however, he refused out of pride – “I didn’t want to have the same results as my other school experiences.” That all changed when a family friend who graduated from YouthBuild told him about the school.

From his first time attending an information session, Isaiah was sold. “I hadn’t experienced any school like YouthBuild – from day one, my life was changed,” he recalls when describing the relationships he formed early on at YouthBuild. He credits a lot of his growth as a leader – and as a man – to his mentor Chris McFadden. “I think mentoring – providing a big brother or big sister type of relationship – is one of the best things YouthBuild has to offer.”

Isaiah’s year at YouthBuild truly embodied our school’s three core values of Perseverance, Excellence and Respect. While losing friends and family members during the school year, Isaiah came to school for support and finished with 95% attendance for the school year; he served as a leader on his worksite, as a Project Manager in building trades; at graduation, he was chosen by staff and classmates to deliver an address after being presented with the “YouthBuild Way” Award, reflective of his demonstration of all three core values.

Even while taking a job at Philadelphia International Airport, Isaiah remained closely connected to YouthBuild. He was a frequent guest for alumni panels, a regular “high fiver” and presenter during Student Mental Toughness Training, and alumni representative at YouthBuild USA’s Council of Young Leaders. In 2018, Isaiah completed YouthBuild Philly’s inaugural “Grads on Board” program and was elected to the school’s Board of Trustees in 2019. His term was brief, however – he resigned from the Board after being hired as a Community Projects Coordinator at YouthBuild Philly.

Having experienced YouthBuild as a student, an alum, a Board member, and now a staff member, Isaiah reflects that “this is always what I’ve wanted to do – to return as a full-time staff member still feels surreal sometimes.” Isaiah hopes to build on his experience at YouthBuild to open Sacrifice Before Success, a non-profit community center that “feels like home” to help under-resourced communities stay connected to school and focused on future success.

A Wishlist Fulfilled: IBEW Local 614

September 14, 2019— Youthbuild Philly community spaces just got a bit cozier with the help of our friends at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 614! The team at IBEW Local 614 reached out across their network and hosted a furniture drive to fulfill YouthBuild Philly’s “wishlist” of items for communal spaces and provided pieces such as: end tables, dining tables, whiteboard, rug, chalkboard paint and more. 

On the day of the furniture drop off, the IBEW Local 614 team, led by the President & Business Manager as well as Business Agents from across the region, was greeted with open arms by YouthBuild Philly students who were happy to assist with the unloading and placement of furniture. Afterwards, IBEW Local 614 members led a Q&A session with students with potential interest in the utility industry. The conversation paved the way for the developing partnership to expand beyond the furniture drive by advising and supporting students on their career pathways. 

This picture left to right: Keith Coombs (Business Agent – Philly Region), Shawn Brewer (Business Agent – DelChester Region), Larry Anastasi (President / Business Manager), Joe Pino (Business Agent – BucksMont Region)

Thank you to our friends at IBEW Local 614 for contributing to the YouthBuild Philly community in more ways than one. Every piece of donated furniture will be placed within the school to facilitate spaces for community. We look forward to a growing relationship with IBEW Local 614 and to making the YouthBuild Philly space feel more like HOME. 

IBEW Local 614 with YouthBuild Philly students and staff

Stay tuned for future furniture placement updates! 

Be sure to follow IBEW Local 614 on Instagram: @ibewlocal614

All photo credits to Kenny Gleaton (@wonderland_of_snaps).