Celebrating Juneteenth 2022

This Sunday, June 19, marks the 2nd celebration of Juneteenth as a national holiday since its official designation last year by President Biden. As we prepare to celebrate this weekend, YouthBuild Philly is proud to honor this important day, historically and in our current moment. For most Americans, the significance of Juneteenth was not well-known, and although it has gained greater recognition, we must acknowledge its 157 year-old history and what it means for so many African American communities across the nation.

Juneteenth is a holiday to celebrate the journey and freedom of African Americans, and the many contributions they have made to American culture. It originated on June 19, 1865, when Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas to inform enslaved African Americans of their freedom and the end of the Civil War. Major General Granger’s announcement put into full effect the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been issued more than two and a half years earlier by President Abraham Lincoln.

Furthermore, since Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery, it is imperative that we remember and focus on Black freedom, perseverance and achievement. At the same time, because slavery set the foundation for racism and white supremacy in America, it is an important reminder of the past and an opportunity to reflect on our present and look to the future we want to create for equitable, racial and social justice.

As we observe Juneteenth on Monday, June 20, we hope you take this time to listen, learn and reflect on this critical piece of African American History. Today, Juneteenth is often celebrated among families and friends at home and in their communities. Many cities – including Philadelphia – hold larger events, like parades and festivals. Let’s use this moment as an opportunity to expand our knowledge of Juneteenth by attending a community event to learn more about the holiday and make friends along the way! A virtual activity on our radar is the, Johnson House Historic Site’s virtual panel discussion: Housing Inequity, Stopping the Loss of Generational Wealth in Black and Brown Communities. If you’re interested in a more interactive event, stop by the Juneteenth Parade and Festival at Malcolm X Park, located at 5100 Pine St. Philadelphia, PA 19143, from 10 am to 8 pm. YouthBuild Philly will also have a table at the event located near the pavilion – please feel free to stop by and pay us a visit. 

In closing, we all have a responsibility to educate ourselves and children about racial equity, diversity and inclusion and their absence in much of America’s history. So, let us celebrate this year’s Juneteenth and many more to come – but keep using our history to not forget the significant and difficult work ahead.

In solidarity,

YB Philly

YouthBuild Philly Host FIRST Earth Day Event with Life Do Grow Farm

This year, YouthBuild Philly commemorated the 52nd Anniversary of Earth Day by hosting our first-ever Earth Day celebration in partnership with the Life Do Grow Farm! The event took place on Friday, April 22 and shed light on the importance of  energy conservation, promoting the use of natural resources and exploring our carbon footprint in the environment.

Shoutout to Mr. George, YB Philly GreenBuild instructor, and our GreenBuild, Advanced Construction and Makerspace students for pulling together such an amazing event. With service at the core of everything we do here at YB, the theme for this year’s celebration was “Community Service for all to help the sustainability of our planet.” 

We kicked off the event by honoring the Earth in a moment of silence and reflection followed by a welcome ceremony and short introduction facilitated by Mr. George. Students, staff and volunteers then split up into multiple groups to complete the following tasks:

●      Building a cucumber trellis

●      Building garden boxes

●      Installing a micro wind turbine

●      Relocating items on the farm

●      Cleaning up light trash

Thank you to our friends over at BlueSky Power, Drexel University Writers Room, Ernst & Young LLC, Performing for Excellence, Solar Tech, and T. Savage Construction for joining us and lending a helping hand in completing the various projects. 

We are truly grateful to everyone who was able to attend and make this event a success. By taking part in activities like picking up litter and planting trees, we’re making our world a greener and healthier place to live.

Until next time, 

YB Philly  

YouthBuild 2021 Thanksgiving Luncheon

Celebrating Thanksgiving as a chosen family is one of our most cherished traditions here at YouthBuild! We celebrate Thanksgiving a day early every year with a Thanksgiving lunch – prepared and served by staff – followed by a party and games.

In addition to staff and students (and students’ children), we often have great volunteers in attendance as well! This year was special, as it was our first luncheon since 2019 due to the pandemic. It was nice to bring back this annual tradition and kick off the Thanksgiving Holiday in true YouthBuild fashion.

The luncheon took place offsite at the Independence Seaport Museum – thank you so much for hosting us this year! It was a great time connecting with students and staff outside of the classroom over an amazing spread of delicious foods and vibrant music.

This year’s menu items included:

  • 6 Turkeys
  • 4 trays of Fried Chicken
  • Mac and Cheese
  • Collard Greens
  • Cranberry Sauce
  • Mash Potatoes
  • Pineapple Stuffing
  • Lasagna and so much more!
  • Full desert table

Shout out to everyone who volunteered to make a dish, helped set up, clean up, and everything in between! The event would not have been possible without the help of dedicated staff members who invested their time and effort to make this year’s luncheon one to remember.

Last but certainly not least, we are truly grateful to our resident Chef Mr. Paul and in-house DJ Ms. Zuri for their work in facilitating and hosting this year’s luncheon.

Thank you to everyone who was able to celebrate with us this year!

Happy Holidays!

-YB Philly

YouthBuild Philly Launches Stomping Grounds Social Justice Café

After more than a year of planning, YouthBuild Philly is excited to announce the official grand opening of Stomping Grounds Café (SGC), YouthBuild’s first community-facing and student-led social justice coffee shop. The Café officially opened its doors to the public on Monday, Nov. 1 at 8 a.m. after holding an initial ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, October 29.

The event was a complete success and was filled with fun, food and music! Special shout out to YB Philly’s very own Scott Emerick, YouthBuild Philly Executive Director, Melissa Jackson-Schmidt, YouthBuild Philly Director of Workforce and Kim Paulus, Stomping Grounds Café General Manager and YouthBuild Philly Customer Service Instructor, who led the ribbon-cutting ceremony and provided some very inspirational words of hope and appreciation.

Thank you to everyone who attended the ceremony – it was a pleasure to chat one-on-one with our new neighbors and reconnect with long-time friends of YB Philly. Guests who attended the ceremony received a free sample of SGC’s world-class banana chai latte and sweet potato pie spiced latte, followed by a student-led walk-through of the Café. The event wrapped up at 5 p.m. with a light networking session and a very impromptu photoshoot with YB staff and students.

For background, Stomping Grounds serves the community and is dedicated to ensuring that all YB Philly students, neighbors and customers, all have a place to feel welcomed and safe.  At SGC, everyone has a seat at the table!

The mission of SGC is built on the foundation of nearly 30 years of young adult training experience and more than five years of running an in-school cafe serving students, staff, and invited guests. Stomping Grounds is more than just a café – it will serve as a flexible space and classroom for YouthBuild students in its Business Administration Scholars (BAS) program.

SGC provides YouthBuild students with an authentic experiential learning opportunity via hands-on, day-to-day operation and management. SGC employment opportunities are exclusive to YBPCS alumni and current students to empower them to become self-sufficient leaders of their community and earn a living sustaining wage.

SGC will specialize in producing Italian espresso-based beverages made from beans ethically sourced, locally roasted, and handled with care by trained professionals.  Teas and other assorted beverages will be offered as well. Students will be responsible for creating and promoting specialty menu items and will work with customers to design custom-crafted beverages to suit any taste.

The Café’s hours of operation will run from 8 am to 1 pm, Monday through Friday and is located in the Powelton Village section of West Philadelphia at 3859 Lancaster Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19104. If you’re ever in the area, please feel free to stop by for a carefully crafted coffee or tea.

YB Philly is committed to improving the lives of young people and Stomping Grounds is where the students can use their newfound skills to make change in their community. To learn more about YouthBuild Philly, please follow on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @YouthBuildPhl and @stompinggrounds_sjcafe on Instagram.        

-YB Philly

Help Others Be #inspiredbyyb

Help others be #InspiredbyYB! DONATE TODAY.

Since March, YouthBuild Philly’s core values of Respect, Excellence and Perseverance have been tried and tested in so many different ways, but our staff and Board members – and above all our alumni and students – have risen to these challenges and continued to show up and show out as leaders. This past September, we celebrated 144 graduates in a socially-distant, highly-personalized ceremony at Bartram’s Garden – where we also started the year with our first all-school service project. Less than a week later, we held our first-ever virtual mental toughness training for an incoming class of 181 amazing and talented young people, and also enrolled another 47 students during a November enrollment period. The work that went into these accomplishments has been monumental – and required constant energy, motivation, and inspiration. 

This year’s graduates and our newly-enrolled Class of 2021 join close to 3,000 young leaders from across Philadelphia who have been #InspiredbyYB – encouraged to make positive changes in their own lives and communities. Our two featured alumni, Alex (2012) and Roland (2017), have used art and music respectively to instill positive change – both directly in their work, and in their support of others pursuing their dreams. Young people like Alex and Roland perfectly exemplify YouthBuild’s mission commitment to develop “critically conscious leaders.”

Since our founding, YouthBuild Philly students have dedicated more than 1,000,000 hours of community service collectively as AmeriCorps members. Hundreds of graduates have remained committed to this service ethic by organizing and working with local labor organizations, supporting grassroots efforts to end police brutality and community violence, serving with faith-based communities, and so much more. Our 2020 graduates and Class of 2021 enrollees find themselves in a unique position. As learners in virtual environments, YouthBuild students and graduates have a unique and important perspective on access to technology and distribution of resources across our City.

YouthBuild’s strong emphasis on data has included regular surveys of students to better align our instructional practices with student needs, while also creating ways for students to socialize in safe and socially distant environments. We have also relied on local and regional public health data to make difficult but necessary decisions surrounding our ability to reopen our physical school building for regular in-person instruction, and hope to do so as we begin the 2021 calendar year. As we prepare to make this transition, while continuing to serve our students and alumni with full-time instruction and mentorship, we need your support!

Your gift to YouthBuild this year will allow us to continue to serve the Class of 2021 and beyond as they engage as leaders in their community. Investments in our school directly impact a new generation of talented young people inspired, motivated and ready to lead. Gifts to this year’s #InspiredbyYB campaign will help to provide:

  • a safe return to school – classroom, worksite, and community service sites – for members of our Class of 2021
  • supplies and protective equipment to ensure the continued health and safety of our community
  • direct need-based grants to help students address ongoing out-of-school challenges such as housing, transportation, child care, and medical expenses
  • clubs and elective courses designed to build on students’ strengths in areas like creative writing, filmmaking, music production, art, robotics and more
  • continued development of cultural literacy and social identities training for students, staff and partners
  • enrichment opportunities such as meet-and-greets with local activists or elected officials, trips to local and regional museums, and conventions/trade shows for professional development and networking
  • college and trade school scholarships to offset the financial burdens of higher education

As YouthBuild Philly has faced some of its biggest challenges in recent memory, we’ve trusted in and relied on the same North Star that has guided us for nearly three decades: the power and promise of young people. We appreciate your ongoing support for our school, and we hope that you will consider a financial gift to YouthBuild this year to provide inspiration for a new generation of learners and leaders.

Any contribution that you make to YouthBuild Philly has a direct impact on the young people that we serve, and is greatly appreciated. Please visit our online donation page to make your gift today – first-time gifts to our school average around $100. We also offer monthly giving options if this better suits your situation – sustained gifts allow us to cut down on administrative time and better serve our students. If you have any questions about what your gift will mean for the school, please feel free to contact our Individual Giving Manager, Theo Molloy.

Thank you very much for your continued support of YouthBuild Philly. We wish you and your family good health, and hope to see you at a YouthBuild event when it is safe to do so.

In solidarity,

Scott Emerick

Executive Director

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.

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.