MLK Day 2016 – Murals, School Improvement, Neighborhood Service, and Partnerships

For YouthBuild students and staff – and thousands of other Philadelphians – MLK Day represents a day of service and reflection rather than a day off.  This year, our school community spent Monday engaged in two ambitious service projects in North Philadelphia – one at Dr. Ethel D. Allen Promise Academy (a K-8 public school) and another at our Nicetown worksite and the Nicetown CDC headquarters.

At the end of the day we had repainted the Nicetown CDC walls, created over 40 original murals in the hallways at Dr. Ethel Allen, and made dozens of blankets and literacy packets for pre-K students.  We also made great headway at our worksite in Nicetown, where Building Trades students are close to completing the full-gut rehabilitation of two formerly vacant rowhomes.

We are proud of our students for the powerful community impact that achieve year-round, but yesterday was particularly impressive.  We owe great thanks to the volunteers from DMi Partners, Saint-Gobain North America, Starbucks, VILLA, and TD Bank who worked alongside us to affect change in Philadelphia!

Read on for details and pictures:

Transforming Dr. Ethel D. Allen Promise Academy

This year’s signature MLK Day project took place at Dr. Ethel D. Allen Promise Academy, a K-8 public elementary school in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of Philadelphia.  Except for a few bulletin boards, the school’s hallways were previously bare and did not reflect the school community’s creativity, ambition, and passion for learning.  YouthBuild Philly offered to add several murals, and the school’s principal agreed to open the school as a service site on MLK Day.  In just a few hours, many well-organized teams of students, staff and volunteers painted over 40 murals in the two-story school.  Take a look at these before (left) and after (right) shots:

 

And click through to see the activity in process:

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A YouthBuild Tradition of School Transformation

This marks the fourth year that YouthBuild has contributed supplies and person-power to a school transformation project on MLK Day.  In past years, we have planned and executed school makeovers at Longstreth Elementary, Morton Elementary, and McMichael Elementary.  Our students are passionate about giving back to local schools – including the ones they attended as children – so that the next generation of students will have greater opportunities thanks to a safe and supportive learning environment.

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Service in Nicetown

YouthBuild Philly organized a second service site at the Wingohocking St. worksite and at the nearby Nicetown Community Development Corporation offices.  Nicetown CDC owns the two Wingohocking St. rowhomes under renovation by YouthBuild students.  On MLK Day, students worked with Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed volunteers to hang drywall in both rowhomes, and volunteers from DMi Partners provided tech support and painting assistance to Nicetown CDC.

Partners Make it Possible

This year’s projects added up to a rather ambitious undertaking, one which would not have been successful without volunteer support from VILLA, Saint-Gobain North America, DMi Partners, and TD Bank.  Saint-Gobain and DMi sent volunteers to both project sites – and VILLA and Saint-Gobain provided financial support for supplies and food.  Along with service, teamwork is one of the central tenets of YouthBuild’s model, and we’re so glad to have partners who embody that quality and are willing to work with our students as they rebuild their lives and their community.  To all of our supporters — thank you!

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Saint-Gobain Helps Recent Grads Navigate Hiring Process

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Lindsay Traum, Human Resource Manager for Saint-Gobain’s Performance Plastics plant in Mickleton NJ, visited YouthBuild Philly yesterday and spoke to a few recent graduates from the classes of 2014 and 2015.

Lindsay gave our graduates information about an entry-level opening with her plant, took questions from the group about the position and careers with Saint-Gobain, and conducted mock interviews with the three grads who attended in order to provide feedback on how they can be successful should they decide to apply for that role or any other one at Saint-Gobain.

We were excited to hear from Lindsay about how her plant’s workplace culture valued safety, job coaching, and helping staff develop over a long-term period.

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Saint-Gobain has been a key funding and program partner of YouthBuild’s greenbuilding projects for several years, and the partnership is now expanding into supporting our postsecondary objectives, including career coaching and mentoring. This is the first of what we hope will be a series of employment and career-focused activities with Saint-Gobain!

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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.

Graduation 2014: Highlights, Photos, and Speeches

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On August 29, 122 YouthBuild students graduated in front of friends and family at a ceremony held in Zion Baptist Church’s sanctuary on North Broad Street.  Hundreds of guests attended, as well as Class of 2015 applicants currently going through Mental Toughness Training.

We were honored to welcome Marcus Allen, CEO of Big Brothers Bialleng Sisters SEPA (BBBSSEPA), as our keynote speaker this year. A strong proponent of service and mentoring, Mr. Allen thoughtfully included references to our students’ individual accomplishments as community leaders.  Prior to joining BBBSSEPA, Mr. Allen was the CEO of ACHIEVEability, a non-profit that provides housing – which YouthBuild students help maintain.

April Broaddus, Class of 2005, delivered a rousing alumni address encouraging graduates to be proud of their pathway through YouthBuild, and to recognize past setbacks as opportunities.

Don’t think that just because you didn’t take the traditional path in your education that you can’t go as far as anyone else. At YouthBuild, our core values make us that much stronger! Don’t think it stops here. Don’t limit yourself because you’re afraid to compete or fail! People who stumble can still be incredibly successful. Michael Jordan lost many a game before the Bulls hit their winning streak! The Beatles, one of the greatest selling groups of all time, were turned down by a record company because they didn’t like the sound and style of their music. Walt Disney was fired from his job as a cartoon artist because they said he lacked creativity. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, was on welfare when she wrote some her best work to date! You’re gonna stumble. You’re gonna fall. You’re gonna have to work twice as hard as you did while you were here. But it’s worth it!

Broaddus is a Rosemont College graduate and now has her own online radio show.  (We also learned just prior to the ceremony that she went through ACHIEVEability’s program after graduating from YouthBuild, which made it all the more fitting for her and Mr. Allen to speak this year.)

This year’s student speakers were Perseverance Award Winner Tania Garcia, Valedictorian Jamal Johnson, and Salutatorian Carmen Williams. 

Tania wrote her speech, which we’ve excerpted here, about resilience:

Today I am here standing not just for my accomplishments, but I am also standing with the rest of the YouthBuild student body that showed perseverance by taking back our education.tania

My words to the Mental toughness applicants are, “Don’t Give Up!” I know that’s what everyone says, but really, Do Not  Give Up. You will understand the importance of these words in a year when you graduate. A lot of people told me not to give up and it wasn’t always what I wanted to hear, but I’m so glad they reminded me every time they saw me.

To the 2014 YouthBuild students: I hope that our friendships don’t end here. I also hope that we all remember this chapter of our lives as a great example of our ability to overcome.

Jamal’s speech included shout-outs to fellow students who have demonstrated YouthBuild’s core values:

Living life along the “YouthBuild Way” has been an inspirational experience for me, as well as all my peers throughout this past year. I am reminded often of the hills, valleys and winding roads along the way that we faced individually and collectively, but here we are Class of 2014. We’re not completely at our destination, but we’re merely at a pit-stop. This pit-stop is for us to refuel and continue on to the path that has been destined for us. We have exemplified YouthBuild Philly’s core values of Respect, Excellence and Perseverance, not only academically, but socially.

This year has been a an emotional roller coaster for me, but I have been willing to give up sleep and many other things to be able to finish my projects, essays, and other requirements to be here to graduate with you all today and I know many of you all have that same similar experiences as well. The importance to post-secondary endeavors has been instilled in us to transition to college or employment, because we want that high school diploma and vocational training. We want to be successful, self-sufficient young entrepreneurs.

Finally, Carmen’s speech acknowledged the hard work ahead.  She compared herself to the Wingohocking St. house that she and other construction students were in the process of renovating this year, and put on her hard hat during her speech as a symbol of her ability to rebuild her own life and the world around her:

When I arrived at the Wingohocking Project, handed this unfamiliar yellow piece of plastic, I noticed I had two things in common with the house we were about to build: we were both broken and yet we both had the potential to be restored. This house and I were ridged materials, skeletons of who we had been designed to be left unoccupied, un-loved, and un-kempt.  It was there, in that abandoned home, that I openly expressed pain for the first time. I never wanted to face reality. Reality meant my parents were never coming back from the grave and life would not cradle a lost cause. But it was in this place, in remnants of what was once a child’s bedroom, that I saw a reflection of who I wanted to become.

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The epiphany that we were a product of ourselves and not our environment was real and perhaps harsh. Our team had two options; we could allow life the satisfaction of completing its work of demolition or we could take control and reconstruct. For me, that meant giving up what I wanted; fast money, and false happiness for what I needed: Stability. Love. To know I had value. I had to remove the excess debris because building anything takes time, patience, and the removal of things that stand in your way.

Today I stand before you wearing yet another hat — my graduation cap. Today is a day to celebrate but let’s also remember that we are all still works in progress, all of us. Which is why we still need our hard hats. I cannot condone the cliché speech that everything will be alright if you try. Class of 2014, we need one another. Life will continue to throw obstacles our way. Whether we’re physically together or not, we will continue to wake up each day and put on our tool belts, reconstructing lives one nail, stud, and door frame at a time.

At the ceremony, we were pleased to award scholarships to twelve graduates, thanks to individuals who gave to the Class of 2014 Scholarship Fund.  The Young Friends of YouthBuild Philly raised an entire scholarship at a bowling fundraiser last month, which went to De’Shaun Burton.  Carmen Williams received the John Gallery Leadership Scholarship.  The families of  Steven Lawrence and Sean Bolden – former YouthBuild students who, sadly, passed away a few years ago – also raised funds for scholarships, which went to Jamal Johnson, Quadier Timms, and Malik Robinson.

The ceremony was also an opportunity to thank our supporters in the community.  We recognized the following individuals for their extraordinary efforts on behalf of YouthBuild students:

  • Champion Award – Carmen Ferrigno, VP of Communications at Saint-Gobain North America
  • Legacy Award – Makeeda Holley, Director of Workforce Development at 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund
  • Meaningful Impact Award – Hope Clayton, Admissions Counselor at Esperanza College

To see more photos from graduation, visit our Facebook photo album.  NewsWorks and ABC6 also covered the event!

Introducing Year 2 (What’s Next for 2014)

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Although our alumni will be employed and enrolled with organizations outside of YouthBuild, we will continue to offer supports and programming (e.g., TransPasses and counseling) that officially constitute a “Year 2” of our program while our graduates adjust to postsecondary education and employment. This  year of continued support will help them transition fully and smoothly into colleges and careers to achieve long-term success.

So don’t worry, you’ll still be hearing from the Class of 2014 as they embark on their next steps over the course of Year 2! Stay tuned for success stories and updates.

Students Attend US2020 Announcement

_MG_6915_webIn late May, YouthBuild Philly students attended a press event at the Franklin Institute, where Mayor Nutter
announced that Philadelphia was one of seven U.S. cities to with the US2020 City Competition.  With funding from this competition, the Philadelphia US2020 Coalition will develop innovative models for increasing the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals mentoring youth, particularly female, low-income and minority youth in Philadelphia.

YouthBuild Philly’s participation in the official announcement emerged from the school’s ongoing “Building Our Future Together” partnership with Saint-Gobain Corporation, a building materials manufacturer headquartered in King of Prussia and a partner in the Philadelphia US2020 Coalition.

_MG_6919webSaint-Gobain employees have mentored and volunteered alongside YouthBuild students on several occasions.  Just in the past year, Saint-Gobain (and subsidiary CertainTeed) employees have led a design charrette to involve students in the planning process of LEED-targeted renovations on Wingohocking Street, helped with the physical deconstruction of the abandoned Wingohocking properties, and mentored Green Construction and Advanced Construction students at a lunch-and-learn designed to help students take full advantage of the International GreenBuild Conference held in Philadelphia in November.
Carmen Williams ’14, an Advanced Construction YouthBuild Philly student who attended the design charrette and GreenBuild Conference, delivered remarks at the US2020 announcement and provided a student’s perspective on the benefits of mentoring programs:

_MG_6909_webWhat I have learned in the last year is that when you invest in young people – when you support, mentor and guide them – you can change the trajectory of their life.  When young people have their eyes opened to experiences and opportunities they never thought were possible – they can dream bigger and their reality can be so much more.  That’s why I am so excited about the life changing potential that this funding will have on young people in Philadelphia, whose dreams and imaginations can be opened up to new possibilities. 

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Following the event, Carmen spoke to CBS 3 News and the Philadelphia Tribune, and described further the important role that mentors have played in her getting her life back on track after dropping out. The salutatorian of YouthBuild Philly’s Class of 2014, Carmen is now enrolled in English 101 at the Community College of Philadelphia and a valued employee at a Starbucks store in Center City Philadelphia.

GreenBuild Groundbreaking on Greene Street

YouthBuild USA President and Founder Dorothy Stoneman thanks our partners

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch a video of highlights from the event:

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