Class of 2015 Fall Graduation

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Today, 38 YouthBuild students in the Class of 2015 received their diplomas in a small ceremony at Zion Baptist Church.  These students represent some of the most resilient young men and women to enroll at YouthBuild, because they endured obstacles during the year that prevented them from graduating in August and persisted anyway, thanks to our REVIVE and Fall School programs.  Fall School Graduation is a celebration of accomplishment and persistence, and a wonderful reminder to never, ever give up.

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This year’s Keynote Speaker was Aurelina Rojas, the Director of HR at Saxbys Coffee.  Aurelina also received an award for her commitment to YouthBuild Philly’s mission.  Saxbys Coffee has hired four YouthBuild alumni in the past year!

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Student speaker Roberto gave an encouraging speech to students about embracing the journey ahead of them, and student speaker (and “Best Poet” award winner) Aushanae read an original poem called “Flowers.”

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A total 156 young adults have now graduated from the Class of 2015.

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Congrats to our newly minted alumni! You are an inspiration and we can’t wait to see what you accomplish next.

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YouthBuild Philly and Saint-Gobain Team Up to Rebuild and Give Back

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Since May 2012, YouthBuild Philly students have been in the process of renovating two adjoining properties in the Nicetown section of the city, transforming previously abandoned eyesores into LEED-targeted homes for low-income residents.

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Last Thursday, Saint-Gobain employees from the corporation’s King of Prussia headquarters braved near-freezing temperatures to volunteer alongside the students.  In addition to installing Saint-Gobain Corporation fencing product along the edge of the property, teams of students and volunteers worked together to frame new walls and windows and reinforce the structures’ existing brickwork.

The Nicetown properties still need several months’ worth of work before completion, but the partnership strives to support the surrounding community in the meantime as well.  In the spirit of the coming Thanksgiving holiday, Saint-Gobain employees and YouthBuild students collected canned and boxed food and brought those donations to the worksite.

The food was given to the Nicetown Community Development Corporation’s food cabinet, and will be distributed to food-insecure families in the surrounding neighborhood.

As Thanksgiving approaches, we are thankful to have partners and supporters in the Greater Philadelphia community like Saint-Gobain Corporation and its employees, who are committed to supporting our students and their efforts to improve the community.

PHOTOS: REP Day, Session 1

Regular readers of the blog know that  students accomplish many things in the course of a year at YouthBuild.  In addition to earning their high school diploma and preparing for college-level academics, YouthBuild Philly students also earn vocational certifications through hands-on learning while serving their community.

School, vocational training and service would be difficult to do all at once, so at YouthBuild Philly students alternate between academic and vocational training every five weeks.  The student body is split into two groups: A-Side and B-Side.  A-Side begins the year in the classroom, and B-Side begins the year with their vocational squads at a work site.

(We’re using a bold font to highlight some YouthBuild Philly lingo, for anyone interested in learning).

The Class of 2014 just completed their first five-week period – or “Session” – on Friday, so this week we’ve switched sides.  This morning, B-Side students had their first day in the classroom, and A-Side students headed to their respective work sites to start earning their certification.

To celebrate the completion of the first session – and bring both Sides together to swap advice and knowledge about what to expect in the next session – we held what we call “REP Day” on Friday.  (REP stands for YouthBuild’s core values of Respect, Excellence and Perseverance.)  In addition to sharing advice and delivering presentations on what they’d learned, students participated in awards ceremonies where they were recognized for good attendance and for demonstrating core values and professional traits.

Here are a few photos from the day.  Please join us in congratulating our students on completing one session, and wishing them luck in the next!

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Philly AmeriCorps Launch 2013

Last month, YouthBuild Philly joined other AmeriCorps programs and service partners for a celebration and ceremony kicking of a year of service for current AmeriCorps members in the Philadelphia region.

AmeriCorps is an important part of our program and a valued partner in the YouthBuild movement.  Many of our staff are full-time AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps VISTAs, and all of our students are part-time AmeriCorps members who provide hundreds of hours of service over the course of their year at YouthBuild.

City and service partners gathered on September 27th at City Hall for the official launch and swearing-in ceremony, which included a recitation of the AmeriCorps Pledge:

I will get things done for America – to make our people safer, smarter, and healthier.
I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.
Faced with apathy, I will take action.
Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.
Faced with adversity, I will persevere.
I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.
I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.

We thank Philly’s AmeriCorps members for their commitment to service, and wish them a wonderful and rewarding year!

Celebrating the Page 2 Stage Vol.2 Book Launch!

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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!

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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.

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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

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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!

Partnering for Success

This summer, ten students gained the full college experience through Stepping to Success, a four week residential program at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology. We partnered with the technical college in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to better prepare students for full-time college.

The students were exposed to a variety of the college’s vocational offerings, such as carpentry and masonry, as well as computer and life skills through two pre-college courses. Each student constructed a stepping stone in the masonry course to exemplify and commemorate the steps taken toward their future through the program. By living in dorms, eating in dining halls, and taking advantage of recreational facilities, the students experienced all that campus life has to offer.

The innovative partnership program with Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology exemplifies the ways in which we are continually expanding the opportunities available to students for post-secondary and career exploration. We are excited to develop a partnership with an organization that shares our mission of providing the highest quality education and opportunities to young people at varying levels of ability.

We look forward to expanding on this partnership with Thaddeus Stevens, as well as other local technical schools and colleges, to assist our students in learning what it means to succeed not only in post-secondary school but on their own.

**If you are interested in learning more about our post-secondary partnerships, please contact Director of Transition Services, Marty Molloy

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Welcome to YouthBuild, Class of 2010!

After two weeks of Mental Toughness Training, the final stage in our application process, 219 students were formally accepted into YouthBuild in a special ceremony at the Doubletree Hotel in Center City. YouthBuild Executive Director Simran Sidhu and Dean of Students Ameen Akbar welcomed this eager and excited group of students into the YouthBuild family as the Class of 2010.

Students celebrated their acceptance into the program through student led “YouthBuild” chants, many hugs, and some tears. Acknowledging the challenges that lay ahead, many students presented their YouthBuild Artifact – keepsakes such as a photo of a family member or personal artwork – that will help them stay motivated throughout the year. These emotional presenters shared inspirational stories about their children, friends, parents, and grandparents. They also spoke about past mistakes and their motivation to reclaim their education and change the paths on which they were headed.

Mental Toughness is over, but the real work has only started for these young people. The new students officially started classes on September 16, 2009 and will work toward high school diplomas, vocational certifications and 675 hours of community service (via AmeriCorps) throughout the next year.

See photos from the Acceptance Ceremony and the first day of class!