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!

Welcoming the Class of 2014

August is always the busiest and most exciting month at YouthBuild Philly, in part because our students are about to graduate and matriculate into new chapters of their journey – e.g., college, trade school, employment.  At the exact same time, however, high school dropouts interested in YouthBuild start to “drop in” and initiate the process of reclaiming their education with us.

What this means is that while we were getting ready for the Class of 2013’s graduation ceremony last month, we were also welcoming hundreds of final-stage applicants to join us for Mental Toughness, a 2-week series of workshops enabling the most motivated applicants to try out YouthBuild’s program and find out whether it would be a good fit for them.  Applicants participating in Mental Toughness 2013 also attended the 2013 graduation ceremony on August 31st.

Less than a week later, those same applicants marched down Broad Street in a peaceful demonstration of their commitment to education and a brighter future for themselves and their community.  Applicants created signs that reflected their adoption of YouthBuild’s core values, and their identities as motivated young people and change makers willing to work hard for success.

We were so thrilled to have the support of the pedestrians and drivers who shared their support by waving and honking at our applicants and staff!  We hope that everyone was as proud of and inspired by our students as we are.

The march went from YouthBuild Philly’s building at Broad and Thompson to the Hampton Inn at 13th and Race.  Once inside the hotel’s ballroom, applicants learned that they had been accepted into YouthBuild Philadelphia.  Here’s a (shortened) video of their reaction.


Although we we might express it differently, we definitely feel similar elation and hope for our incoming class.  They are now starting their second week of academic and vocation classes, and off to a great start!  Please join us in congratulating them on the steps they’ve taken to reclaim their education and transform their lives.

MLK III to Deliver Keynote Address at YouthBuild’s Class of 2013 Commencement

Community activist and son of Dr. Martin Luther King will address former high school dropouts who earned their diploma through the transformational education and community service program.

Philadelphia, Pa – August 20, 2013 – Over 100 former high school dropouts ages 18-21 will receive their diplomas from YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School at a commencement ceremony on Friday, August 23rd at 10 a.m. Martin Luther King III will attend the ceremony and deliver the keynote address.

The commencement ceremony will celebrate students’ growth and achievements over the past year. All YouthBuild Philadelphia graduates have transformed their lives by earning a diploma as well one or more industry recognized job certifications through rigorous academics, hands-on vocational training, and community service. Most students in the Class of 2013 plan to continue their education at a college or trade school after graduating from YouthBuild Philadelphia.

Human rights advocate and community activist Martin Luther King III will deliver a speech to the graduates and their families at the ceremony. Mr. King is currently planning a march on Saturday August 24th in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and his father Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. Mr. King will travel to Philadelphia for the day on Friday to attend the YouthBuild graduation.

“We are deeply honored that Mr. King is joining us for this joyous occasion,” said Simran Sidhu, Executive Director of YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School. “The national YouthBuild movement of young people reclaiming their education while rebuilding their communities has its roots in the twentieth century civil rights movement. As our country reflects on the past 50 years of change and progress and continues to push towards equality, committing ourselves to the education, training, and unique promise of each young person must be a priority.”

The ceremony will additionally feature remarks by selected Class of 2013 graduates and a YouthBuild Class of 2007 alumna, as well as musical performances by two students. YouthBuild Philadelphia will present its annual Legacy Award to Scott Emerick, Vice President of Education for YouthBuild USA, and the Meaningful Impact Award to Dennis McDonough of the Finishing Trades Institute.

Please note that due to very limited space, this is is an invite-only event.  Only press, invited guests of YouthBuild Philly, and ticket-holding friends and family of graduates may attend.  

Celebrating the Page 2 Stage Vol.2 Book Launch!


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!


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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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 

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:, A greening on Greene Street
NewsWorks (WHYY), Blight goes green on Greene Street

Youth Foundation Launches with Day of Greening in Philadelphia

YouthBuild Philadelphia’s Youth Foundation led three environmentally friendly service projects in honor of Global Youth Service Day on April 23, 2010.  More than 200 students and staff joined local community partners for beautification projects, including:

  • Revitalization of Francisville: In partnership with Francisville NDC, YouthBuild students donated and planted grape vines in a garden, and planted trees along the streets of Francisville.  Students learned urban gardening techniques from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Tree Tenders.
  • Park clean-up with HACE CDC: YouthBuild students mulched trees and cleaned an area in the North Fifth Street neighborhood of Latino businesses and cultural institutions.
  • Gardening at the Village of Arts and Humanities: YouthBuild students planted donated fruit trees, vegetable plants, and flowers.  See ABC6 Action News coverage of the project in action.

Youth Foundation is a new student organization responsible for planning service projects and allocating the school’s resources to support the community.  This year, the group focused its efforts on Global Youth Service Day, which is celebrated in over 100 countries as the largest service event in the world.

To see more photos of the events, visit Flickr or our Facebook page.

Students Brittany Fowler and Shakila Alexander are joined by teachers Dena Rosen and Barbara Shubin in clean-up efforts
Student Jesse Liverpool digs out a hole to plant a tree in Francisville
Full-time AmeriCorps member Yattah Blanton and student Malisa Crawford prepare to plant flowers at the Village of Arts and Humanities