Region’s lead professionals volunteer on worksite, offer leadership advice

In February and March, YouthBuild Philly students renovating the Wingohocking St. construction worksite in Nicetown received some assistance – and valuable advice – from a unique group of volunteers who called themselves “Junto 7.” _MG_6471web The members of Junto 7 are participants in LEADERSHIP Philadelphia’s 2014 Core Program.  This program prepares leaders in the Philadelphia region’s private sector to serve the community as non-profit board members.  During the training and leadership development process, Core Program participants are grouped into cohorts (or Juntos) that partner on projects with area non-profits. The Junto 7/YouthBuild Philadelphia project consisted of five weekly sessions during which the LEADERSHIP volunteers would visit the Wingohocking worksite, put on hard hats and dust masks, and work alongside students in the process of deconstructing the abandoned properties and preparing them for renovation.  This was hard, dusty work in freezing weather – but it gave volunteers the opportunity to learn from and be led by YouthBuild students who have been at the worksite all year. _MG_6494web Over the course of the five weeks, the volunteers also shared their own expertise with students by providing career advice during breaks on the worksite. For example, Betty LeHew, Assistant Vice President for  Human Resources at the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, told students to  take goal-setting seriously: “Outcomes are about having a long-term goal and having short-term goals. If you have a long-term goal and no short-term goals to get there, you’ll have a stronger chance of failure than success.” And John Kalina’s advice to students was “Make [professional] relationships strong enough, to the point where someone knows your work ethic.” John is the Vice President of IS Business Management at Independence Blue Cross. _MG_6510web For a total of 5 sessions, Junto 7 and YouthBuild Philly’s GreenBuild and Advanced Construction vocations partnered in building physical structures and building strong, prepared young adults for their careers. On March 12th the project culminated with a tour of PJM Interconnections, a firm (where one of the Junto 7 volunteers works) that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity within various U.S. regions. The partnership presented a unique opportunity for YouthBuild students to teach the LEADERSHIP Philadelphia volunteers the skills necessary to accomplish their tasks on their worksite and for the YouthBuild Philly students to learn “tricks of the trade” to accomplish their responsibilities in their career aspirations. _MG_6474web “We went all in and got so much out of it,” said Laurie Zierer, Executive Director of the PA Humanities Council. _MG_6508web Students in the construction squads agreed.  Student John Laderer reported that the experience motivated him to continue pursuing his career goal of being an Aviation Mechanic, and gave him leadership skills to help his younger brother make smart choices.

Thank you, Junto 7, for your hard work and caring mentorship!  Your leadership has made a real difference on Wingohocking St. and in our students’ lives.

Congratulations Class of 2013!


Our school reached a new milestone on August 23, when 127 students in the Class of 2013 received their diplomas at our 21st commencement ceremony.  As of Friday, more than 2,000 motivated young people have graduated from YouthBuild Philadelphia since the program’s founding in 1992.  The YouthBuild Philly movement has come a long way since our first class of sixteen graduates!

Dorothy Stoneman, YouthBuild USA
Dorothy Stoneman, YouthBuild USA

Many friends and supporters of the program joined us to celebrate the joyous occasion.  Dorothy Stoneman, Founder and CEO of YouthBuild USA as well as YouthBuild founding staff member John Bell attended and handed out awards during the ceremony.  Other guests included our board members, representatives from local elected leaders’ offices, and staff from our funding and program partners.

This year’s commencement speaker was Martin Luther King III, who was organizing a march in Washington, D.C. the very next day to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and his father’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech.  YouthBuild USA was one of the many organizations involved in the Washington event over the weekend.

Mr. King’s speech tied the graduates’ accomplishments to the work yet to be done in the name of civil rights and improving communities.  “Civil rights is alive,” he said.  “And my dad would be telling us that we have to find a way to create jobs and opportunities.  The mantra in 1963 was Jobs and Freedom.  In 2013 it’s Jobs, Freedom and Justice.”

Martin Luther King III
Martin Luther King III

“Where you are in your lives is the result of the energy and the fact that you each of chosen to take a step to take charge for your future,” Mr. King said.  “While this is an important graduation for each of you – and it’s a huge step – it’s not the ending.  It really is the beginning of what you should do within your lives.”

Class of 2013 valedictorian Derrick Davenport also addressed his fellow graduates, as well as the applicants going through Mental Toughness Training to join the Class of 2014 who were also in the audience.  In a speech titled “Don’t Settle for Less, Just Do Your Best,” Derrick reflected on his transformation at YouthBuild, saying “With the help and guidance from teachers, staff, mentors and family members, I am no longer that kid on the stoop.  I’m the father paving the way for my son’s future.”

“Class of 2013, we’ve shown up and produced high quality work throughout the school year.  On the construction site we have learned the skills to build walls, insert drywall, prime and paint.  On academics, we’ve written about our own inspirational leaders, conducted research projects, written narrative essays, and shown motivation. But the journey can’t stop here.  A diploma isn’t enough.  Don’t be scared to force yourself to do better.  I challenge you to sacrifice the person you were for who you are willing to become.  You have proven that you are able to persevere through obstacles.  There are always going to be challenges throughout life, but you can’t let them stop you.   Always be excellent.  Excellence is a lifestyle; excellence is who you became and who you should continue to be.”

To the Mental Toughness applicants, Derrick said: “When there are moments of doubt telling you can’t do it, or you’re listening to people who say you can’t, the real question is: are you willing to work hard enough?”

Other speakers included Excellence Award winner Kyra Butler and Class of 2007 alumna Analicia Lindsay-Whitehead.

Class Valedictorian Derrick Davenport receives his diploma
Class Valedictorian Derrick Davenport receives his diploma from YouthBuild Philly Board Member Erin Horvat

Every year, YouthBuild presents a Legacy Award and a Meaningful Impact Award to partners and supporters of the program who have helped YouthBuild Philadelphia strengthen our program and pursuit of our mission, and paved the way for increased opportunities for our students.  This year we were proud to give the Legacy Award to Scott Emerick from YouthBuild USA and the Meaningful Impact Award to Dennis McDonough from Finishing Trades Institute.

To reiterate Mr. King’s insight, graduation marks the end of a year at YouthBuild – and the beginning of the rest of our graduate’s lives. All of our students have postsecondary plans ranging from full-time employment to the military, and 82 of Friday’s graduates intend to continue their education through college or trade school.  Many of our graduates will be the first in their families to go to college.

The costs of college are a significant consideration for YouthBuild students, who often must pay for their own tuition and supplies in addition to supporting themselves and their families.  For this reason, YouthBuild Philly runs a summer campaign to raise money for the Scholarship Fund.  Thanks to our generous individual donors and members of the YouthBuild Board of Trustees as well as the Young Friends of YouthBuild (who organized a bowling fundraiser at North Bowl), we received enough contributions to give out twenty scholarships this year.  Students can use these awards for tuition or other costs not covered by financial aid or scholarships, such as supplies.

To see more photos from graduation, check out our album on Facebook.  Use the comments section below to leave a note of congratulations to our graduates.

YB Student Organizes Awards Ceremony at Project HOME

While volunteering at Project HOME’s 1515 Fairmount residence, YouthBuild student Dominique had an idea:  What if the organization gave out awards recognizing the residents for their growth and resiliency?

Project HOME empowers people to break the cycle of homelessness through housing and services, and the 1515 Fairmount residence is home to men and women in recovery after struggling with mental illness.

As someone who had experienced setbacks in her own life, Dominique recognized her own struggle in the struggles of the residents.  She wanted to support them, and she knew that their continual efforts to overcome personal challenges deserved recognition.

Dominique’s idea was inspired by the R.E.P. days that we have at the end of each session at YouthBuild.  R.E.P. days include presentations of what students have learned, and awards for students recognizing their high attendance and embodiment of YouthBuild’s core values (Respect, Excellence, and Perseverance).  Dominique remembered how encouraged and inspired she was when she received her first R.E.P. day award.  So she suggested the idea of an awards ceremony to the Volunteer Coordinator at Project HOME.

After two weeks of preparation, YouthBuild Philly and Project HOME staff joined Dominique and the 1515 Fairmount residents on July 19 for a moving and inspiring awards ceremony.  Project HOME staff created the awards for each resident, recognizing them for their growth and resiliency, as well as their learning accomplishments and service contributions.

Dominique gave a short speech before giving out the awards:

_MG_3012 I just want to say that it’s a privilege and an honor to be before amazing individuals such as you guys.  You have all
motivated me because of the trials and tribulations you have overcome.  In my school, this is known as perseverance.  Perseverance is a continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failures, or opposition.  I am here today for this reason.

I feel that if anyone should get a chance of being celebrated it should be strong and courageous people like you.  I hope this is a moment that you all cherish.  Today is a huge day for me because I get to give awards to well deserving people.

I am so grateful that I get to see what not giving up looks like.  Each of you have an amazing story to tell and a gift that can impact the world.  I just want to say, don’t give up.  I truly believe that I am standing in front of people who got knocked down, but got up by any means and made a complete transformation.  That to me shows true dignity.  Today we’re here to celebrate you as individuals, but I am a firm believer in friendships and you have all gone through this process and succeeded together so don’t forget to keep these friendships and let them blossom.

I want to thank Project HOME for allowing us in their space and being so generous and really caring about the lives they come in contact with.  Also, I want to thank YouthBuild for the encouragement and resources to pursue the thing I am passionate about.

We applaud the residents for the huge changes that they have made and are making in their lives, and thank Project HOME for everything that they do – including their support of Dominique’s idea!  Dominique plans to pursue a career in social work, and we believe she has an exciting and successful career of helping others to look forward to.

Students Write: Why Service?

While earning their diploma and trade certification, all students at YouthBuild additionally participate in volunteer and leadership activities in service to their community.  Every student is a part-time AmeriCorps member and completes at least 675 hours of service during their YouthBuild year – thereby earning an education stipend to use for furthering their education after YouthBuild.  While they change their own lives, students change their community for the better as well.  In their Community Change Workshops, students wrote in their journals about their service experience and why service is important part of the YouthBuild experience:

The service I did was at the Drueding Center. I like the Drueding Center because there were young mothers and their children trying to better themselves. I like that because I’m not better than them, I am trying to do the same thing. That’s the best thing; a child can look up to their parents and follow their lead. Service is an important part of YouthBuild because other people help YouthBuild and they give back to the community. We do also and I think that’s the right thing to do.”

– Tiffany

“I did my service at the YES (Youth Emergency Services) Program. It felt good to give back to the community and do something for people who are less fortunate! It felt good because a lot of people don’t have people in their corner helping them out or doing things for them. This service is important to YouthBuild because we are big on community service and giving back to the community. I enjoyed helping.”

– Kamunti 

“The service that I did was helping people to vote. It felt really good because it felt like we were actually making a change. It felt this way because it was the first time I helped someone other than myself. I thought that was important because [an] election was critical to anyone’s situation. Service is an important part of YouthBuild because we help change the community in more ways than I will ever know. It also shows people…that anyone is capable of change.”

– Charles 

Student Spotlights: Preparing for Transition

Shakila Alexander, a student in YouthBuild’s Healthcare Training program, earned her Certified Nurse Aide (CNA) certification through our partnership with Leahy Caregivers.  In the classroom, Shakila earned a 92% average in her academic courses.  As a Peer Mediator, she helped to support other students and resolve conflicts throughout the year. In addition, she was a member of the YouthBuild Step Team, which performed at school and local events.

Shakila will graduate on August 27 with honors, after completing the Medical Assistant program at Lincoln Technical Institute this summer. She will begin classes at the Pennsylvania Institute of Technology in the fall to work toward an Associate’s Degree in Pre-Nursing.

Carnell Bates was selected to participate in our advanced construction training program, Tomorrow’s Promise, due to his outstanding performance on the vocational training worksite this year.  He was also selected to participate in the after-school ACE Mentor Program to learn from architecture professionals. Carnell became a new father midway through the year, and he has worked tirelessly to remain focused on his school work while balancing life as an actively involved parent.

Carnell will work toward completing his academic graduation requirements this summer, and plans to attend Community College of Philadelphia after graduation. His ultimate goal is to become a construction architect.

Ashanti Stafford, a student in YouthBuild’s IT and Business Administration training program, earned high marks in both vocational training and academic classes throughout the school year.  As a Peer Mediator and member of Youth Congress, Ashanti established herself as a leader in the classroom and student assemblies. She also worked with our Transition Services team to encourage student participation in The Journey, an after-school program designed to guide students through the college admissions process.

Ashanti will take college courses at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) this summer, graduate with high honors in August, and begin taking classes full-time at IUP in the fall to earn her Bachelor’s Degree in Communications.

Two Students Attend Conference of Young Leaders in Washington DC

We are proud to announce that two Youthbuild Philadelphia students were selected to attend YouthBuild USA’s Conference of Young Leaders in Washington DC.

Rashon Thomas, Dorothy Stoneman and Shakila Alexander
YouthBuild Philadelphia students Rashon Thomas and Shakila Alexander with YouthBuild President and Founder Dorothy Stoneman.

Shakila Alexander and Rashon Thomas joined 116 fellow YouthBuild students from programs across the country to discuss the future of the YouthBuild movement, visit state legislators, and run for positions on the National Young Leaders Council.

The National Young Leaders Council (YLC) is an elected body of YouthBuild participants and graduate leaders from across the country acting as a national voice for youth in the YouthBuild Movement.

YouthBuild Philly 2006 Alumnus Wayne Whack previously served as a member of YLC and now serves as a member of the Executive Team of YouthBuild’s National Alumni Council.

Rashon delivered an inspiring speech before the attendees, and closed with this promise:

By voting for me you will elect someone who can prove it is possible to change themselves and the world around them. As a voice for education I will show future YouthBuild students that their dreams are worth fighting for. I want to help others just like my cousin Jahi Davis, my teachers, and my mentors have helped me. It does not matter what neighborhood or family you come from- it matters where you are going and how you are getting there.

We could not be more proud of the two young stars who stood as outstanding representatives of YouthBuild Philadelphia!

See more photos from the event on our Flickr page or YouthBuild Alumni”s Facebook page.

YouthBuild Philadelphia Board Member and alumnus Jahi Davis and Rashon Thomas, current student and COYL Representative