A Window of Hope for Hassan

YouthBuild Philly gives each student the unique supports and opportunities needed to change their future. Your support makes it possible for young people in Philadelphia to realize their full potential. 

Make a gift to the Annual Fund today.


Hassan’s Story:

When Hassan came to YouthBuild Philly in 2006, he had already attended several high schools, but had dropped out or been kicked out of each one because of his temper and impulse to fight. He was anxious about trying to go back to school after repeated disappointments, so he enrolled at YouthBuild at the same time as his sister to ease the transition.

What Hassan discovered, though, was that he already had “family” at YouthBuild, in the form of case managers and vocational instructors who were eager to support him as he worked to overcome his old mindset. Hassan enrolled in the selective Certified Nursing Assistant training track, and gained confidence and professional skills while interning at Mercy Hospital and volunteering at a Red Cross senior center.

Thanks to his valuable on-the-job training, Hassan found a job within two weeks of graduation and has excelled in his career thanks to the professional and communication skills he learned at YouthBuild. He is now a senior CNA at Shriner’s Hospital for Children in North Philadelphia and is the self-described “go-to guy” for his department due to not only his professional experience, but also his experience as a parent. He has a knack for “dealing with kids on a kid’s level,” he says, but plans to go back to school and eventually open his own home security business. “The sky’s the limit,” he says of his future.

As someone who came from a background where “there was so little hope,” Hassan encourages everyone to not give up on young people. Finding YouthBuild helped Hassan turn his life around and escape the streets. “Most of the people I grew up with are either dead or in jail,” he says, “and if not for YouthBuild, that could’ve been me; YouthBuild saved my life.”

Everyone deserves a second chance.  At YouthBuild Philly, we offer students the training and indidivual supports they need to make that second chance count.  Help another young person turn their life around by making a gift to YouthBuild today:


Humans of YB: Andrea, Class of 2016

AndreaAndrea is a health care student at YouthBuild, pursuing an EMT certification.  “It’s a family thing,” she said of her career goals. “My father and godfather are both firefighters. I’ve always wanted to be a paramedic.”

Andrea left her old school to find work, but soon discovered that she needed a diploma to get the jobs she was looking for.  Her cousin, a YouthBuild graduate, suggested she apply to YouthBuild.

However, going to YouthBuild means more to Andrea than just getting a diploma and a job certification. Since enrolling, Andrea has found motivation, inspiration and support. “(Health Care Coordinator) Ms. Nakesha is my motivation,” she said.  “She’s on our backs like crazy in the health care program. If we are late or don’t show up, she texts us immediately, and she is always reminding us that our hard work will pay off in the future.”

“I haven’t been at YouthBuild very long, but the staff here have helped me with getting my ID, getting transportation, and even clothing,” Andrea says. “It makes me feel wanted.”

“I’ve been going through stuff, but I manage to show up and stay resilient, and I’m proud of that.  The best piece of advice I’ve gotten at YouthBuild is that nothing is handed to you; you’ve got to put in the work. And when I think about my future, it makes me go at it more.”

A Window of Opportunity for Jerome

a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.

YouthBuild Philly gives each student the unique supports and opportunities needed to change their future. Your support makes it possible for young people in Philadelphia to break out of the cycle of poverty and move forward with their lives.  

Make a gift to the Annual Fund today.


Jerome’s Story:

Jerome dropped out of high school during his junior year, when his mom got sick and lost her job. The oldest of four, he worked for a catering company so that his brothers could stay in school and his family could stay in their home. While he gladly took on this responsibility for his loved ones, Jerome never lost sight of where his career could take him if he went back to school.

As his mother recovered, Jerome resumed his education at YouthBuild Philly in 2013 and enrolled in the Greenbuild vocational training track. He and his squadmates deconstructed an abandoned rowhome to ready it for LEED-targeted renovation, and participated in the International Greenbuild Conference held in Philadelphia that year. Jerome quickly distinguished himself as a reliable, outgoing and intelligent young man and took on a leadership role within the Greenbuild team.

For Jerome to fully take advantage of his second chance, he needed an opportunity to show he was capable of contributing in a career setting. In the spring, that opportunity arose when Graboyes Commercial Window Company came to YouthBuild to replace the school’s windows. YouthBuild’s Director of Vocational Training recommended Jerome for an internship with Graboyes which quickly became a paid position.

Jerome’s career goal is to be a journeyman in the glaziers’ union, and the company is supporting and encouraging him to embark on that training process this year. “Thanks to YouthBuild and the opportunities they gave me,” Jerome says, “I went from having a dead-end job to now being at the very start of my dream career.”

Working to build a green home with his peers helped Jerome understand that he could play an active role in improving his community, through service as well as leadership and hard work. “When I first dropped out of school,” Jerome observes, “it was because I needed to support my family. Now, thanks to YouthBuild, I am not only able to support my family, but also my community.”

Every year, YouthBuild enrolls 220 students.  Each student has his or her own story, but all have one thing in common: whatever their past, whatever their obstacles, they’re ready to move forward with their lives. YouthBuild paves the way for young people’s dreams, and your support makes that possible.  

Make a gift today to give more students like Jerome the second chance they need and deserve:


Alumni Profile: Bria Jenkins, CDA ’14

“I really like what I do,” says Bria Jenkins.  She has just finished a 45-hour week as a preschool instructor at Right Steps education, but is still of energy – especially when it comes to talking about her job.  Thoughtfully and enthusiastically, she describes her roles and responsibilities as a co-teacher at the Center City childcare center.

For example, this week’s classroom theme is Winter, so all the activities – designed by Bria and her colleague to be developmentally appropriate – are centered on Winter topics.  Bria writes the lesson plan every other week, trading off with her co-teacher.  “We started around the same time together, so we built the classroom together. Everything in there is something we created together.”

Bria sent us photos from her classroom. “This is our morning circle area where we usually put the season on the wall. We practice our alphabet, go over the calendar, and pick our jobs every week.”

Bria has seventeen nephews and nieces, so she was already familiar with childcare at a practical and instinctual level before enrolling at YouthBuild.  However, she says, the program taught her important fundamentals in professionalism and child development.  “I’ve learned not to just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the children – now I explain the decision to them,” she says.  “It’s amazing to think about how much time we spend with the kids, who spend most of their waking hours with us.  We are responsible for what they do, what they learn, what they eat.  We have a huge impact on them.  It’s a big responsibility.”  Her favorite part of the job, she says, is hearing from parents about what lessons students have brought home – whether it’s math skills or eating new foods.  “They might not show it in the classroom,” she said, “but it’s enough to know they took it home.”

“Another recent theme was ‘New Year.’ The children made stars to represent how colorful their year would be.”

Bria explains that because of the winter, the students aren’t going on their daily morning walk to Rittenhouse Sqaure – but they still go in the afternoon when it’s warmer.  She laughs appreciatively as she describes how diligent her students are about holding on to the walking rope during these excursions.  “Even when they stumble a little,” she says, “you know they’ve still got their hand on the ring.”

Bria knows a thing or two about diligence herself. Before coming to YouthBuild, she worked at Bayada as a home health aide and thought that she would enroll in YouthBuild’s healthcare vocation track. When she heard about the Childhood Development Associate program, though, she realized that was a better fit for her because of her interest in working with children. Once in the program, she set her sights on success and securing employment. Her favorite field trips, she said, were the ones where the group visited actual childcare centers. “I wanted to see professionals doing what I was trying to become,” she explains. “I think my success comes from wanting it so badly.”

“Each student created and named their own snowman.”

Now that she is employed as an early childhood educator, Bria wants to use her limited free time (she works 2 evenings and 2 weekend mornings at another job) to enroll in college online.  Her plan is to continue studying early childhood education, so that she can eventually advance in the field.  “I see what our school director does and it interests me,” she explains. “She started as a kindergarten teacher, so why not me?”

Online learning works best for self-directed learners, and Bria is confident that this option is a good fit for her.  “I know I’m a dedicated person, so when I say I’m going to do something I know I’m going to do it.”

Bria Jenkins
Bria’s student photo from the Class of 2014 acceptance ceremony

Bria came to YouthBuild after her mother fell ill and she dropped out for over a year due to emotional distress.   “Then it took me a while to go back, because you don’t want to go back to school and face the fact that you dropped out,”  she explains. She reached a turning point after her birthday, however, when she realized that she was running the risk of becoming too old to earn a diploma. “I started evaluating myself and my situation, and asking myself ‘where can I go from here without completing my education?'” she recalls.  A friend told her about YouthBuild and they applied together to the program. (Bria’s mother is now recovered and well.)

At YouthBuild, Bria found supports and challenges that helped her fulfill her potential. “The close-knit family was inspiring to me,” she said, “and learning about leadership at YouthBuild made me step up and want to be more and be better.” She developed a close and positive relationship with Justine Philyaw, the CDA program coordinator, and engaged in friendly competition with one of her close friends and classmates to keep each other motivated.  In August, she graduated from YouthBuild. After interning with two other childcare facilities, Bria found a position at Right Steps – thanks to the friend with whom she was “competing.”

“This was our winter/Christmas classroom door. Each child had an ornament hanging from the door.”

As a recent graduate of YouthBuild Philly, Bria still receives postsecondary counseling and support from the school.  She is in regular contact with a postsecondary coordinator. “The followups make me feel good,” she says.  “Even though I have a supportive family, it’s good to know that someone’s still looking out for me and I know I can contact them.”  Just this week she contacted her postsecondary coordinator for advice on applying to online college programs.

“I really love YouthBuild,” she says. “If I could, I would go back and continue my education there.”

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.

Celebrating a Year with Starbucks

In the summer of 2013, YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School was awarded a Youth Leadership Grant from the Starbucks Foundation to support our Leadership Development programming.  Over the past year, YouthBuild Philly and Starbucks have expanded on this partnership on the ground in Philadelphia, leading to new opportunities for students and Starbucks partners alike.  Read on to learn more about this exciting and emerging partnership!

Starbucks Visits YouthBuild Philly:

Shortly after YouthBuild received the Leadership  grant, Michael Scott, district manager, and Shannon Phillips, regional director, visited the school to meet with key staff and discuss ways that the two organizations could work together throughout the school year.  Subsequent meetings with Starbucks Area 71 Community Liaison Caitlin Durkin allowed  both organizations to explore opportunities for community service and leadership development together.  Starbucks generously donated YouthBuild Philly a $100 gift card, in addition to providing coffee and snacks for Student Ambassador meetings and volunteer events.

In December 2013, Caitlin attended a site visit at YouthBuild Philadelphia and had the opportunity to see our program in action and meet with a group of students to hear about the program from their perspective.  Caitlin was so inspired by her visit that she encouraged Michael and Shannon to attend the next site visit which was scheduled in January.

Pathways to Meaningful Employment:

Brittany reps YouthBuild in her Starbucks barista cap.  She reports that Starbucks is a supportive environment, just like YouthBuild.
Brittany reps YouthBuild in her Starbucks barista cap. She reports that Starbucks is a supportive environment, just like YouthBuild.

At this site visit, the Starbucks representatives were so moved by the personal stories of two of our students, Brittany and Carmen, who were doing extremely well in our program but both struggling with homelessness, that both of these students were offered job interviews at Starbucks.  Brittany and Carmen were both subsequently hired at two different Starbucks locations in the Philadelphia area and both continue to be employed there. In fact, Brittany was recently offered a promotion to shift manager, a job that pays $13 an hour.  Brittany and Carmen are extremely proud to be employees at Starbucks and wear their Starbucks hats and other logoed gear to school nearly every day.  They report that the Starbucks work environment is very supportive and reminiscent of YouthBuild.  Both students even have mentors!


Starbucks Promotes YouthBuild Day: yb_starbucks_BG

On April 3, the national network of YouthBuild programs celebrated the first ever YouthBuild Day, during which local programs organized events to raise public and political support for the YouthBuild youth development model. In Philadelphia, YouthBuild Day activities centered on a flyer and social media campaign to encourage former high school dropouts to apply to YouthBuild for the coming school year.  Caitlin Durkin generously offered to coordinate Starbuck’s support for YouthBuild Philly’s campaign, and secured the participation of several stores in Center City Philadelphia. These stores displayed posters and flyers specifically created for YouthBuild Day, and provided YouthBuild Philly shirts to employees to wear during their shifts.  Caitlin reported that many customers recognized the shirts and were pleased to learn that Starbucks had ties to YouthBuild Philly.


Serving the Community Together:

Later in April, YouthBuild Philly partnered with Starbucks for two of the company’s Month of Service events.  Service in the community is a core component of YouthBuild Philly’s program, and we were pleased to partner with Starbucks in improving Philadelphia’s neighborhoods through volunteer projects:

  • On April 12, one staff member and twelve students joined Starbucks employees and volunteers from the Urban Tree Connection for an Earth Day community clean-up in West Philadelphia.
  • On April 24, Michael Scott coordinated a volunteer day for partners at a YouthBuild Philly construction worksite. Students are renovating this formerly dilapidated home in the Strawberry Mansion section of the city, and their recent demolition work left a great deal of debris in the back of the property.  Starbucks partners volunteered alongside students (including Brittany, who represented both groups) to thoroughly and safely transfer this debris to a dumpster for removal.This part of the renovation process benefits greatly from added manpower, and would have taken at least twice as long without the extra hands and enthusiasm provided by Starbucks volunteers.  YouthBuild students greatly enjoyed working alongside Starbucks employees (some even inquired about careers with Starbucks), and it was heartening to witness the care and passion that Starbucks partners had for giving back to their local community.
Starbucks employees and YouthBuild students pose in the dumpster they're about to fill with demolition debris.
Starbucks employees and YouthBuild students pose in the dumpster they’re about to fill with demolition debris.

Looking ahead, we hope to continue partnering with Starbucks as a prospective employer and service partner, and to explore other ways that our organizations can work together to develop youth leaders and build a brighter future for the Philadelphia region.

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 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.

Meet our 2009 Valedictorian

When 19 year-old Zurrell Toney enrolled at YouthBuild last year, he was focused on only one thing: a high school diploma. Looking back at his time at YouthBuild, our 2009 valedictorian says he ended up with so much more – including construction industry certifications, his Commercial Driver’s License, and new travel and life experiences.2009 Valedictorian Zurrell Toney

He traveled to Guatemala to provide volunteer construction services, and took a trip to Washington DC in March, where he met First Lady Michelle Obama. During a four-week residential bridge program this summer, Zurrell had the opportunity to live and study at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster, PA, and he is now a full-time college student in their Business Administration program.

At our 2009 commencement ceremony, Zurrell thanked his fellow graduates and YouthBuild staff for helping him to succeed:

“Let me make one thing clear – there are no better models to see everyday than the staff members and students of Youth Build Philadelphia Charter School. I have learned to face my future with respect, excellence and perseverance because of this special group of loving people, willing to always put themselves last and us first!”

Zurrell learned to put himself first in order to become a better student. He says he previously failed to graduate because of the constant distractions in his former school environment. The small classes and personal attention at YouthBuild created an atmosphere where he could stay focused and flourish.

He graduated with a 3.8 GPA from YouthBuild, and plans to replicate the same achievements at Thaddeus Stevens in his accounting, public speaking, and business skills courses. After he earns an associate degree, Zurrell intends to continue his educational path at Temple University with the ultimate goal of starting his own business.