Rasheedah Collins: Her Road Less Traveled to YouthBuild

Get to know Rasheedah Collins.

This month we highlighted our new Director of Vocational Training, Rasheedah Collins! Read on to learn more about her ‘road less traveled’ to YouthBuild Philly, her transition into YB culture and what she likes to do outside of YouthBuild.

“My journey to YouthBuild was nothing short of crooked. There was no straight pathway,” says Rasheedah Collins, YouthBuild Philly’s new Director of Vocational Training as of August 2018. During her time as a Business Major at Lincoln University, Rasheedah was convinced that she wanted to pursue a career in financial services with aspirations of eventually working on Wall Street. While at Lincoln, Rasheedah joined Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. to gain leadership experience, and after graduating in 1998, her first job out of college was with the Police and Fire Credit Union managing commercial mortgages. Around two years into her first career foray,  Rasheedah felt a need for change. “‘There has to be something more that I can do here. I thought as I looked around my desk and saw stacks and stacks of loans, and I was like ‘I need some more human interaction’,” Rasheedah explains.


FullSizeRender (9)


She went and pursued just that when she decided to shift her career as a Human Resource Assistant. “Things took off from there,” says Rasheedah. She spent time in a few different industries such as financial services, information technology and higher education. Rasheedah’s career underwent another shift when she began a career in Career and Technology Education with The School District of Philadelphia. After seven years with the Philadelphia School District Rasheedah made her way back to HR and Talent Acquisition. From there she ultimately found her way to YouthBuild Philly, heading up the school’s Vocational and Career Training program.

It didn’t take much for Rasheedah to be sold on YouthBuild. “I know it was the opportunity for me to really be able to explore what it is that we do at YouthBuild via workforce development and training professionals for career paths – including some that are not always seen as viable career paths. I’ve worked with everyone from middle school students all the way to students on the graduate level, and sometimes people like to look at workforce development as an alternative. Vocation for many years has been looked at as where people go when they can’t succeed in college,” Rasheedah says. She wants to set out to change that. “It has been my mission since entering the industry to bring light that this is something that people can do and become educated in the field and go on to earn a better than decent salary to support their families,” explains Rasheedah.

When Rasheedah worked at the Philadelphia School District she recalls students earning awesome opportunities within the skilled labor industry. “I worked with students who were studying to be welders and graduated from high school. All eight students got full time positions making $50,000 right out of high school, and they were being paid to go onto college. For a young person in Philadelphia to walk out of high school with a guaranteed position and college education, I think that’s better than decent.” she says. Rasheedah’s belief in the vocation industry is a driving force behind everything she does. “I’m always passionate about what young people can do in workforce development and often think about what we can do better to bring about education, opportunities and exposure to vocation. My goal is to shine light where I can on vocational workforce development because I believe that it’s absolutely necessary and something that can help families throughout our neighborhoods regardless of where you live,” explains Rasheedah.


Since starting at YouthBuild Philly, Rasheedah has set some concrete goals for herself. “First and foremost, I want to really learn YouthBuild. YouthBuild is very unique in that we’re not your traditional school. I’m still unpacking what that looks like and making the adjustment to the on the job training that we do. Once I get my ‘sea legs’ so to speak I look forward to exploring some really good opportunities for our students,” Rasheedah says.

Rasheedah has been ‘on the go’ since her first day in the Summer during student Mental Toughness Training. “My first day, I came in and threw my bag down and said ‘okay, tell me where I’m going. It’s important to keep that kind of energy going because no day at YouthBuild is the same,” says Rasheedah. She describes teamwork as one of YouthBuild Philly’s most valuable attributes. “Sometimes when you think about an organization of any size, you typically stop with access at a particular level. I truly appreciate the leadership and accessibility, starting at the top with Scott (Emerick, YouthBuild Philly’s Executive Director). I feel the same with colleagues and staff in the building. I don’t feel like I’m on my own. At YouthBuild, it is believed that when one person is successful. We all are successful,” says Rasheedah. Part of the culture at YouthBuild Philly is to celebrate each other’s accomplishments with shout outs and Rasheedah has had no problems adapting to this norm. “Shout out to YouthBuild staff, especially Scott for his exemplary leadership. Along with Stephanie Waller (Training & Placement Coordinator), Ameen (Akbar, Director of Student Life), Zuri (Stone, Assistant Director of Student Life), Robin (Walker, Learning Exchange Director), Michael Imperato (Director of Career Development) and Adesanya (Karade, Chief Financial & Operating Officer) who have all been extremely supportive during my transition into YouthBuild. Most importantly, the students who keep me challenged and on my toes everyday,” Rasheedah says.

IMG_3749 (1)
(Far Right) Rasheedah with YouthBuild Philly staff on College and Career Day. Here she is representing all three of her Alma Maters: Lincoln University, Saint Joseph’s University (Masters in Human Resources) and Widener University (Masters in Higher Education).

FullSizeRender (13)

Rasheedah’s favorite part of YouthBuild has been the students. “I love the students. I really appreciate that they challenge me in a good way, because I know that vocation is a very unique space. It’s important to me that I listen to what they are saying about their experiences in the classroom and on the worksite, because that helps to inform how good I am in this space and whether or not we can go from good to great. I truly appreciate their honesty and candor around their experience and how I can help them.” she explains.

Outside of YouthBuild, it would be no surprise to find this born and raised Philly native enjoying all that Philly has to offer, especially during the Summer. “I love summertime in Philly. The food markets, outdoor festivals, NeoSoul and The Roots Picnic. I love all of the Philly ‘feel good’ music and activities,” says Rasheedah. When she’s not enjoying summertime in Philly, you can find at her favorite vacation spot in Martha’s Vineyard or her spending quality time with her family. A major highlight of her family time is during the holidays when she gathers her family at her house for a feast personally made by her. “For Christmas brunch I will be making a french toast bake casserole, shrimp and grits, seafood quiche, chicken and waffles, and silver dollar pancakes,” says Rasheedah. When asked if she’s a secret chef she modestly says, “Shhh, I love to cook, I just have to be in the mood.”  

Rasheedah’s wealth of experience, dedication to education and contributions to YouthBuild culture make her a valuable asset to YouthBuild Philly. The YouthBuild team is grateful for Rasheedah’s ‘road less traveled’ that ultimately brought her to YB.

Welcome Rasheedah!




YouthBuild Alumni Making Waves

“We believe in the ripple effect– when students transform their lives, they can transform the community around them.” Read on to learn about two of our alumni who have changed their own lives and the lives of those around them, starting with a ripple caused by reclaiming their education. Since graduating from YouthBuild Philly, Malik (Class of 2016) and Zurrell (Class of 2009) are continuing to ride the #YBWave by positively impacting their families and community.


Copy of Malik Option 2

Before coming to YouthBuild, Malik’s (Class of 2016) high school experience revolved around confusion, anger, and low self-esteem. Coping with a rare autoimmune disease known as alopecia had impacted Malik’s mental health as well. “I always felt like people were looking at me for the wrong reasons.” One day this anger boiled over into a fight, and next thing he knew, Malik was facing legal trouble – resulting in a three-month incarceration.

After leaving jail, Malik attempted to re-enroll in another school, but they didn’t meet his needs as a place to redirect his energy and talents in a more productive way. Once he found out about YouthBuild – and came to interview and get to know staff – Malik knew that this was his opportunity to blossom as a leader. “YouthBuild was like a joy,” he says as he reflects on the teachers and staff members that helped bring out his best qualities.

As an Advanced Construction student, his instructor’s “tough love” paved the way for him to succeed. “Mr. Ron held us to a standard of ‘get it done or leave’” – which instilled accountability, self-respect, and a sense of pride – building on “the small things” he learned from everyday successes. Those “small things” led him to many advanced certifications (CPR training, OSHA 30) that he was able to add to his resume to enhance his candidacy.

After starting at CCP immediately after graduation, Malik quickly refocused his energy to PowerCorps PHL, where he would eventually serve in three different roles – Member, Fellow, and Assistant Crew Leader. This experience prepared him for his current career path with Water Logs, an industry leader in the field of green stormwater infrastructure (GSI). Currently a Foreman and Site Inspector, Malik plans to take his skills in GSI to open a new business with his own crew within a few years, and eventually give college another go, to major in Business at Temple University and open his own construction business.


Zurrell Option 1

Until reaching high school, Zurrell (Class of 2009) excelled in class and was regularly on the honor roll. He loved school and had dreams of going to college and starting his own business. However, when Zurrell got to high school he lost that focus as he prioritized socializing and “goofing off” with friends. “High school was definitely a difficult time. I started looking more at the social scene and wasn’t worried about the educational aspect.” As a result of his lack of focus, Zurrell had to make up classes in summer school, and was even held back a grade. After seeing his friends graduate on time while he was still in school, he chose to leave school and enter the workforce once he turned 18.

With no high school diploma, Zurrell’s options for work were limited. While working at Toys ‘R’ Us earning minimum wage, he realized that a diploma would open up new opportunities for him. “I needed to do something,” he recalls thinking. “I’m not going to accomplish my dreams on $7.25 or $7.50 an hour.” He’d heard about YouthBuild from one of his neighbors who attended the school, and after being reminded by a recruitment poster, he decided to come to apply to YouthBuild so that he could see it for himself.

YouthBuild reignited Zurrell’s passion and love of education. A self-starter for his whole life, he was used to relying on intrinsic motivation to lead him to success. His mother supported his independence – trusting his judgment and never pushing him in any particular direction – and fully supported him enrolling at YouthBuild. In fact, Zurrell’s maturity and leadership shone from the very first day of Mental Toughness Training – he remembers encouraging his older sister to come with him every day, and they earned their diplomas together. Zurrell went back to his honor roll days, and ended up earning the honor of class valedictorian.

Even before he graduated from YouthBuild, Zurrell enrolled in a bridge program at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, and eventually became the only alumnus from his cohort to earn an Associate’s Degree at Stevens. From there, he considered numerous four-year college options before enrolling at Temple. “Getting into Temple was such a huge accomplishment – for so many young people in Philly, we see Temple but we don’t see it as an option.” With thoughts of working either in sports or with youth, Zurrell took a career assessment test which identified sports and recreation as a career path for him – fortunately, Temple offered this as a major, and Zurrell graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in sports and recreation management.

Zurrell immediately began moving forward in his career while maintaining his commitment to community. He took a role as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the Police Athletic League, and when his year of service ended, he began working at a local YMCA as a Sports Supervisor – eventually becoming Camp Assistant Director, and then Program Director. He also stayed connected to YouthBuild, both nationally as a member of YouthBuild USA’s VOICES (Views On Improving Credentials and Education Success) advisory council, and locally as a member of the Young Friends of YouthBuild Philly.

When an opportunity in YouthBuild’s postsecondary department opened earlier this year, Zurrell was encouraged to apply. After taking a temporary position, his contract was extended, and he was promoted to a full-time staff member, now working with YouthBuild alumni as a Career Coordinator. “Everything I did in the past came back full circle in the best way,” Zurrell reflects as he considers his path back to YouthBuild.


Please consider making a gift today to help keep the #YBWave rolling. Click the image below to visit our fundraising page – any amount you’re able to give makes a ripple to keep our wave rolling! Thanks very much for your consideration and support.