Student Leadership Trip to Baltimore

The Student Life department organized a field trip to Baltimore last Friday so that students could visit the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum there. This was an eye-opening experience for many students, who later shared their reflections in writing on social media. One student reflected on black history in connection with her decision to apply to college, posting a photo of her Esperanza College application along with the caption:

Even though I’m scared, I look forward to this next chapter in my life. It’s crazy how a simple trip to a museum can impact your life in a great way. Seeing how resilient they where regardless of their situation really gets to the mind & heart…

Another student wrote:

Yesterday I was able to attend a trip to the Great Blacks in Wax museum. The emotions and vibes I felt were unreal. I saw the real truth and horror of what blacks had to endure throughout history. But I also witnessed something almost indescribable. I saw their hope, pride, and optimism. Even in the face of death and immense oppression, their inner passion to fight for what they wanted was remarkable. I learned that even if people says that you are less than what you are you should never let that stop you from trying to achieve what you really want even if it is impossible. Class of 2016, don’t give up. We are almost finished. Remember your resilience!


These reflections are a testament to the importance of travel and new experiences for young people’s personal growth and worldview.  Shout-out to the Student Life staff who organized the trip!

If you would like to support another travel opportunity to YouthBuild students, please consider making a donation to support our Spring Break Service Trip, which will take 20 YouthBuild students to Utuado, Puerto Rico for a volunteer project next month.  Making a gift online is a great way to support the trip – or you can attend the Young Friends Spring Break fundraiser at North Bowl on March 3!  Tickets are available online.



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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.


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!


SugarHouse VP Counsels students: Work Hard, Be Nice

_MG_2148On Wednesday, Leigh Whitaker, the VP of Communications for SugarHouse Casino came to YouthBuild Philly to speak with alumni and select students in the Business Administration vocation track. The main emphasis of the workshop was to focus on code switching in professional contexts, but Leigh shared her personal experience and life advice as well, including 10 key pieces of wisdom, which students and staff took notes on:

  1. Life is not fair!If the person next to you works less than you and makes more than you, that’s not relevant to you.
  2. Life is about choices. Choose wisely.Sometimes you will have to choose between the good and the bad. Sometimes the good and the good. Sometimes the crappy and the crappier.
  3. Don’t let anyone use up your time doing what they want to do or what they want you to do.In general, try to keep your relationships healthy. Even if you are a “yes” person, don’t maintain one-sided relationships. This should apply across the board: to friendships, work relationships, and personal relationships.
  4. Don’t take a chance with the impression your tattoos or clothes can make.Tattoos can easily be covered, you can easily pull up your pants, and you can easily not wear a wrinkly shirt to an interview – when you don’t do these things, she says, she cannot trust your judgment and will not hire you.
  5. Work hard. Be nice.(Borrowed from her friends at KIPP). You don’t have to love everyone, but you do have to respect the chair that they’re in and peacefully coexist with them.


  1. If you dig a ditch for someone else, you might as well dig two.What benefit do you have in bringing someone else down?
  2. Be smart about the company you keep. Everyone isn’t your friend!
  3. Own your mistakes!If you make a mistake, own up to it. Don’t try to blame someone else; it’s your mistake. Also, nobody wants to hear a laundry list of excuses.
  4. Be prepared!Go into an interview, a meeting, etc. prepared! Know what you’re going to be talking about and dress appropriately.
  5. Find yourself a good coach! Leigh said it is helpful to have a team of coaches behind you and be intentional about what areas you select them for.


Leigh was very honest and genuine with students and shared her advice coming from the standpoint that she does not know everything, and learned from experience – including mistakes. She did not get to this extremely successful point in her career by having a master plan from day one and following it. A lot of the major points in her career were affected by connections she made from working hard and being nice.


We are so grateful to Leigh for for taking the time to meet with our students and supporting them on their professional development journey!

Class of 2015 Fall Graduation


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.


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!


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.”


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


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



Business Administration Scholars profiled in SHARE Food Newsletter

This school year, YouthBuild Philly students in the Business Administration track began volunteering at the SHARE food warehouse in North Philadelphia to develop their administration, operations and customer service skills while serving their community.

In this month’s community newsletter, SHARE highlighted some of the BAS students who volunteered over the holidays on one of the winter’s coldest days.  We are very proud of our students’ service to food-insecure Philadelphians, and also proud to have SHARE as one of our service partners!  Check out the newsletter clip below, and visit to learn more about the food warehouse’s program

Perseverance Prevails

Also working in the warehouse on that bitterly cold day were three teens from YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School.

YouthBuild offers a unique, one-year program that provides high school dropouts a chance to earn their diplomas while learning vital job skills and engaging in valuable community service. Just over 200 young men and women between the ages of 18 and 21 attend YouthBuild, which is located on Broad Street, just north of Girard Avenue in Philadelphia.

Christian, Alonzo, and Anthony each have experienced hardship in their young lives, but with YouthBuild’s encouragement and well-structured one-year program, they have been able to concentrate on their studies while also developing marketable skills that will help ensure gainful employment. Along with their fellow students, they attend class and devote several hours each week to on-the-job training. Here at SHARE, these friendly and focused young men are learning to use equipment, discovering the basics of retail marketing, and coming to terms with the value of following instructions to complete their assigned tasks.

SHARE’s Executive Director Steveanna Wynn practices tough loves when it comes to the YouthBuild students. If they complain about having to walk quickly through the vast warehouse spaces, she points out that although old enough to be their grandmom, she makes that same trek several times each day, no matter how low the temperature dips. And last September, when Mother Nature decided to offer up a few final scorching days, Steveanna insisted that vegetable harvesting continue, despite the intense heat. These are lessons well learned—that completing what is expected of you is not optional.

YouthBuild has three core values: excellence, respect, and perseverance. The school believes that every student, regardless of his or her past, can embrace these values and achieve anything. SHARE is honored to be helping these students realize their potential, and is grateful for the contribution they are making to reducing hunger among the region’s low-income households.

Spotlight On: Child Development Associate Training

“Becoming an early childhood professional is something I always wanted.  Working with children is more than a job to me. Once I leave the center every child is still in my heart.  There are so many children not in safe environments, and I want to provide a safe environment for any children that may not have that at home.”

– Daionna, YouthBuild Philly Class of 2014.

Daionna, quoted above, was a member of YouthBuild Philly’s inaugural Child Development Associate (CDA) vocational training program in the 2013-2014 year.  Now in its second year, the CDA track is one of four vocational training options for YouthBuild students, along with Building Trades, Healthcare and Business Administration.

Students in the CDA program divide their time between classroom learning and internships at child care facilities around the city.  Classroom time covers the research and theory of childhood development and early learning as well as professional skills relating to safety, parent communication, and reporting.  Additionally, students participate in service learning projects with organizations like WePAC and PlayWorks.  Over the course of the year, students develop a portfolio of work that includes lesson and activity plans, healthy meal plans, and a professional philosophy statement.

YouthBuild Philly launched the CDA track to build a strong pipeline to employment.  Demand is high in the childcare field, and the CDA certification is a critical asset for students seeking employment in the field.  Several students from the first Class of 2014 are now employed at childcare facilities or as full-time nannies.

CDA Coordinator Justine Philyaw sees additional, personal advantages in the training program for students. “I’m interested in how this program is affecting our students as parents,” she said.  Half of the students in this year’s program have one or more children, and what they learn in the classroom is useful to them as parents and educators.  For example, students often bring activities home to try out with their children.

Along with stable employment, Philyaw added, the field of early childhood education offers flexible schedules, which students can leverage to advance their careers or balance their work with other responsibilities.  Amber – another 2014 alum – has plans to start taking college classes online, which will fit in well with her downtime (read: naptime) as a nanny and allows her to further her education and career without compromising her availability to clients.  More and more childcare facilities are now open at night or even overnight, too, and childcare professionals can work night shifts to have more flexibility during the day.

In addition to the career advantages listed above, CDA students choose the training program because of their interest in working with children.  Many CDA students have witnessed or personally experienced dangerous and unsupportive childcare conditions, and feel called to create safe and educational spaces where young learners can thrive.  In Diaonna’s words, “it’s more than a job.”

This month, we’ll be posting more student and alumni stories with a focus on the CDA track, as well as updates from the CDA classroom.  To follow along, please bookmark or subscribe to our blog – or sign up for our new monthly “Spotlight” newsletter, which will feature a new YouthBuild Philly topic (starting in January with childcare) each month.

YouthBuild Philly Receives Preservation Alliance Award

In June, a group of students and staff from YouthBuild Philly attended the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia’s Preservation Achievement Awards, an annual event recognizing important historical preservation work being done throughout the Philadelphia region.

photoThis year, the Preservation Alliance honored YouthBuild Philly with the John Andrew Gallery Community Action Award, for renovating 82 homes since 1992 and for the recent role that students have played in the preservation of the Cedar Grove mansion in Fairmount Park and, most recently, the John Coltrane House in Strawberry Mansion.

Over the past year, a select group of students have helped the Preservation Alliance stabilize the John Coltrane House, a National Historic Landmark that is also on the Alliance’s list of Endangered Properties. Built at the start of the 20th century, this house on North 33rd Street was home to jazz legend John Coltrane from 1952 to 1958 – a formative time in his creative development. The house has since been owned by Coltrane’s family, then by dedicated homeowners who are committed to preserving the space as a tribute to the musician’s legacy. The house is over a century old, vacant, and requires maintenance and repair to stay stable – particularly after an adjoining property caught fire a few years ago.

YouthBuild students preserved history by restoring the porch of the John Coltrane House.The students’ participation helped the Alliance maximize their use of a grant from the 1772 Foundation to perform emergency repairs on the front of the rapidly deteriorating property.

This project was featured on the PlanPhilly website in early 2014, which gained the attention of YouthBuild USA and the Corporation for Community and National Service. This publicity led to CNCS publishing an article on their website featuring student John Laderer – one of the three students to work on the house – and highlighting his YouthBuild experience. Before YouthBuild, “I didn’t realize how motivational and inspiring service could be,” John said in the article. “It’s uplifting. Everyone makes sure you put your best foot forward…It’s like a family.”

John and Luis Torres – another student who worked on the house – attended the Preservation Alliance’s Preservation Achievement Awards as representatives of YouthBuild students past and present.

Students Write: “Dear YouthBuild…”

This year, students in Ms. Willa’s Language Arts class spent the academic year working on ethnography projects that studied a place of their choosing. Ethnography, students learned, is a form of social research that observes and analyzes the everyday patterns and practices of a group.  This particular assignment – which Ms. Willa called “Sense of Place, Sense of Self” – highlighted the idea that group and individual identities are often tied to geography and “place.”

At the start of the school year, students selected a place – for example, a youth shelter, or a particular intersection in their neighborhood – to be the focus of their ethnography.  Over the course of the year, students wrote essays studying the rules and symbols of their chosen “place,” drew informational maps, and interviewed members of the community.   Ethnographies often include reflections from the researcher about their own interpretations and biases, so students also wrote letters to the place that they had chosen.

Some students decided to focus their ethnographies on YouthBuild Philly.  Below, we share two letters written to YouthBuild by student ethnographers Angela and Anthony:

Dear YouthBuild,photo2web

I was afraid to open up to you at first as I’m sure you already know, but you did your best to help me.  If I don’t have anyone I know I will always have you by my side through every step I take.  Each day I walk into you and I feel your warm embrace around me making me grow even fonder of you.  If the world had others like you, you could help paint the future of our millennium and future generations to come.

Sometimes you frustrate me, and sometimes I want to let you go but you always give me a reason to hold on.  Many people don’t know you or take time to listen to your story, I know if they took the chance to see who you are you could change the mindset of others.

You sculpted me, you molded me into the woman I need to become.  I may not be perfect but you never judge me; instead you guide me when I fall off track.  We’ve had our differences but you’ve shown me you only want the best for me and my future.  When life knocks me down you always let me know you’re here with a hand to lift me up.

You help me hide from the world around me; you also help me do more productive activities with my life instead of being in the street.  The world could have taken control of me but instead you took me under your wing.  They only fear I have now is letting you down, but I know in my heart that you would never let me do so.

Just seeing you reward my accomplishments and positivity makes me want to make you more proud.  As you watch me grown and as I succeed on my journey, I know that you are smiling upon me.


Angela Shapiro

P.S. See you at graduation – remember, it’s in August.  See you soon.


Dear YouthBuild,photo1web

When I first met you in mental toughness, I was inspired by your positivity and professionalism.  It pushed me to strive for success and make sacrifices in order to reach my goals.  All the people you introduced me to became my family and you became my home.  Failure became my past and success became my future.  You gave me a second chance and showed me what freedom feels like.  Told me that I am just as good as that man carrying his briefcase, walking into a twenty-story building in a suit and tie wearing shoes covered in animals that you only see in the zoo when they’re alive, if not better than him.

You became my voice when nobody else stood up for me.  You’ve proven to the world that I’m not the criminal they expected me to be.  You told my family that I was in good hands and will be working with other young adults to change the community we live in.  You took me under the wing and became my mentor throughout the journey we are taking to success.  You push me every step of the way to force myself not to take a break, slow down or quit marching with this team we all put together.

Thanks to you, I know there’s a brighter future waiting for my arrival.  There is another generation waiting on me to stand in front of them and share my success story, another class of your students are waiting for me to tell them how real this opportunity is.  Without you I don’t know where I’d be.

Anthony Cunningham



For two students, an early graduation


In Simran Sidhu’s TEDxPhiladelphia talk about YouthBuild Philly’s core strategies, she emphasized the importance of putting individual students and their needs at the center of our program design.  What this means, sometimes, is being willing to abandon or adjust existing program constraints if they don’t help students achieve success.

Last Friday’s community meeting offered a great example of this flexibility and student-centered focus – but it requires a little explanation first:

YouthBuild Philly is housed in the OIC building on North Broad St., which we share with several other non-profits including Philadelphia OIC, Inc., which owns the building.  In early February, Philadelphia OIC contracted Graboyes Commercial Window company to replace the building’s windows.

When several glass workers showed up at our school to replace the windows, YouthBuild’s Director of Vocational Training Marty Molloy saw an opportunity.  He approached the Graboyes team and arranged for one student – Jerome Kinard – to pursue an internship with the firm.  (Here are photos from Jerome’s first day on the job.)

In April, Jerome took time off from his internship to attend the YouthBuild USA Conference of Young Leaders, and Aaron Warren filled in during that week – which led to his being brought on as a full-time intern as well.

Aaron and Jerome have both fulfilled their diploma requirements (attendance, coursework, vocational certifications, service in the community) with YouthBuild already, and Graboyes was eager to hire both of them and help them enter a union apprenticeship.  The only catch was that Aaron and Jerome needed to have their actual high school diplomas; fulfilling the requirements wasn’t enough.  Unfortunately, YouthBuild traditionally only gives out diplomas in August or November at our graduation ceremonies.

When presented with this problem, however, school leadership decided to make an exception.  It didn’t make sense to hold Jerome and Aaron back when they had fulfilled their requirements and had worked hard to earn new opportunities.

So last week we awarded the two students their signed and seal-stamped high school diplomas.  They are now the first graduates in the Class of 2014!


It would have been anticlimactic to just hand these hard-earned diplomas to the students, of course, so the school held a surprise ceremony during last Friday’s community meeting.  Jerome and Aaron wore their caps and gowns, we played Pomp and Circumstance over the speakers, and Simran awarded the students with their diplomas.  (Note: Jerome and Aaron will also walk in the official August graduation ceremony alongside their classmates and in front of their friends and family).


The outpouring of support from Jerome and Aaron’s classmates was the highlight of the ceremony.  Many students still have some requirements to fulfill before August – and some may not graduate until November – but on Friday everyone celebrated this early graduation.  The room was filled to the ceiling with 2014 pride.


We are so proud of Jerome and Aaron’s hard work at YouthBuild and with Graboyes – and of their classmates who continue to pursue excellence and demonstrate perseverance on their way to graduation.  Please join us in cheering on the Class of 2014 as they enter the home stretch!


Student Work: Somatic Poems

The following “somatic poems” were written by students in YouthBuild Philly’s Page 2 Stage club:

Feltonville Relaxed
by Genesis Maria

Trees outside in the chill
White halls and bright lights
But why
I just walked away
I’m here again
School Overwhelming
by Callieah Ferguson

Paragraph after paragraph
Essay after essay
Lord knows I
Can’t wait until I accomplish all these
A paraphrase. One more direct quote.
Martin Luther King once had a dream.
Putting Feminist in my own words.
Lord only knows how many paragraphs
I have left to go…
Paragraphs after paragraphs.
Thanks Ms. Sandra!
Germantown Calm
by Tahera Johnson

My mind wanders back to mental toughness
I was tough enough.
Knowing I was able to make it, I didn’t quit.
The memories of it won’t exit my mind
I remember when saying hi to strangers wasn’t this easy
The experiences I had were truly worth my time