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!

Saint-Gobain Helps Recent Grads Navigate Hiring Process


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

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

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


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


YouthBuild Philly highlighted in national service/education report

Last month, America’s Promise Alliance released a report on The Role of National Service in Closing the Graduation Gap.”  This report coincided with the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps, which since 1994 has connected volunteers to community needs, including educational attainment and access to quality education.

Much of the report focuses on how outside volunteers have helped students succeed in US schools and increased the national graduation rate. However, the report also pointed out that community service and volunteering can help older students stay motivated and connected to their school through a renewed sense of self and purpose.  The report highlighted YouthBuild USA and YouthBuild Philly in particular, incorporating quotes from Simran Sidhu and Dorothy Stoneman on why service is a cornerstone of the YouthBuild model:

“Providing service in communities, making a difference, producing something of value has a profound influence on self-respect, identity and the career choices young people make — especially when they are in a group that has been considered worthless. For young men of color, it has  a huge impact to be visible on the street doing something positive and tangible for  their community — building affordable housing for their own neighborhoods.”

– Dorothy Stoneman, Founder and CEO, YouthBuild USA

“This kind of tangible service changes our students’ relationship with the community so that they go from being the problem to being the problem-solvers.  Our students wear their hard hats and tool belts because they want to be seen in them.  they’re so proud. ”

– Simran Sidhu, Executive Director, YouthBuild Philly


The report also noted that youth who volunteer are more likely to find employment and less likely to disconnect.  Studies of YouthBuild programs, also summarized in the report, found that members who completed a year of AmeriCorps service were twice as likely to go to college as those who did not complete the year, and five times more likely to attend college than non-AmeriCorps members.  There’s a lot to gain by giving back.


Read the summary and full report here.

June Volunteer of the Month: Sirrah Williams

Sirrah Williams is the June 2014 YouthBuild Philly Volunteer of the Month!  Sirrah works at the Wharton School of Business and has been volunteering at YouthBuild since March 2014.  In addition to helping out in Ms. Willa’s Language Arts class, Sirrah also helped  coordinate this year’s partnership between YouthBuild Philly and Wharton’s annual Charity Fashion Show.  She is a fantastic friend of YouthBuild, and we are so grateful for her service and commitment to YouthBuild’s mission.  Below, Sirrah  reflects on why volunteering at YouthBuild is important to her:

sirrahI have learned the importance and merit of providing mentorship to our youth of the Philadelphia community. Too often the value of support and fostering meaningful relationships with our youth is overlooked in our culture, but I strongly believe that building healthy communities begins with playing an active role and reinforcing positive relationships with the next generation. Luckily, I felt I was able to help provide such support (even if only in a small way), during the time I spent in Miss Willa’s Language Arts classroom.

One of the most powerful interactions I had with a YB student was not only the help I was able to provide with ethnography projects during class time, but that I was able to build a strong enough working relationship with one particular student to the point where she felt comfortable reaching out to me via email (so I could continue to provide assistance and tutoring with her project outside of my time spent in her classroom). It meant a great deal to me to see that this student took pride in putting in the extra effort to work on her project. This is not only a situation where I felt I had been helpful and made a positive impact, but I felt I had truly had been able to make a difference.

Interested in volunteering at YouthBuild? Click here to learn more.



May Volunteer of the Month: Alexandra Brown

Alexandra Brown Is the May 2014 YouthBuild Philly Volunteer of the Month!  Alexandra is studying Anthropology and Human Biology at Temple University, and has been volunteering at YouthBuild Philly since January.  All of us at YouthBuild thank her for the hours of tutoring and valuable service she’s provided at our school this year!  Below, Alexandra reflects on her time at YouthBuild so far:

ImageVolunteering at YouthBuild has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. I attended after-school tutoring sessions every Tuesday and Thursday expecting to tutor students, which I did, but I always leave with new learned information. For example, I’ve learned that YouthBuild students are some of the most driven and eager students that I’ve ever witnessed. I hope that every student that I’ve worked with knows that they have all impacted me in some way.

One particular interaction was especially meaningful to me: I had been assigned to work with a specific student. Even though I was overly excited to help her with her homework, she didn’t seem to reciprocate the same feelings towards me. It took a little bit of warming up but once we broke the ice, I began to see her become more comfortable with my help and presence. Now, every time we see each other she greets me with a warm hello! It meant a lot to me that she allowed me to gain her trust. 

The time that I felt I was making the biggest difference was when I led the Interview Etiquette Workshop during Saturday School. The fact that the participating students were so engaged in the presentation really made me feel like I contributed something worthwhile to the YouthBuild community.  I am so thankful to everyone at YouthBuild for allowing me into their school and into their community. I really appreciate every single person that I’ve had the pleasure of working with! 

Interested in volunteering at YouthBuild Philly?  Learn more here. 

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.

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.

April Volunteer of the Month & Volunteer Appreciation Week 2014

Brionna Pendleton is April’s Volunteer of the Month!  Brionna is an undergraduate studying biology and psychology at Temple University, and has been volunteering at YouthBuild Philly since November.  All of us at YouthBuild thank her for the 30 hours of tutoring and valuable service she’s provided at our school this year!  Below, Brionna reflects on her time at YouthBuild so far:

ImageI am genuinely happy that YouthBuild exists, not only for the students but for all of the teachers, tutors, and support staff. Tutoring at YouthBuild has been an amazing experience for me. YouthBuild is a place where so many of these students can escape other struggles and truly focus on bettering themselves. It is inspirational to hear some of their stories and how they have turned away from things that were once dragging them down. These students are trying to better themselves after so much that they have encountered in their short lives and it makes me want to become a better person in my own life.

I remember coming up the elevator and being greeted by Mr. Ricky and other teachers yelling, “IT’S SHOUT OUT DAY!” I was completely confused and just stood there dumbfounded. Shout outs were being handed out all over the place and I felt that it was a great way for the students to encourage each other and for them to be noticed for the great that they do. Later, I was helping at student with a science project. After we had been working for a while, he said “Thanks! You really helped me a lot. You definitely deserve a shout out,” and there he wrote me one and on it reads “for helping me :)”. I still have it hanging next to my desk.

I was working with an alumni student one day and she told me that she doesn’t usually like to be tutored because it is difficult for her to connect with others, but she told me that it was different with me. We talked and not just about strictly math and science, but about what’s hard for her, why she has difficulty, and what she thinks will help her do better. I think it was so meaningful to me because when I first sat down, she explained to me that usually she doesn’t like getting help, and by the time I was leaving, she wanted to schedule to be tutored by me again. I felt that I had not only helped her understand a concept in math, but also realize that it is okay to ask for help.”

Earlier this month, YouthBuild Philly celebrated National Volunteer Appreciation Week with a special breakfast for our volunteers, and an afterschool pizza party for tutors and students.  We are grateful every week of the year for the generous gifts of time and caring that our volunteers bring to YouthBuild, but we enjoyed having a special occasion to celebrate during Volunteer Appreciation Week!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Interested in volunteering at YouthBuild Philly?  Learn more here. 

March Volunteer of the Month: Kia Lacey

Starting with this post, we are launching a new series of posts featuring YouthBuild Philly’s volunteers of the month. This month, we recognize Kia Lacey!  Kia is working towards her Master’s in Psychology at Kaplan University and has donated 45 hours of her time to tutoring YouthBuild students since September 2013.  We asked her to reflect on her experience at YouthBuild so far:


ImageVolunteering at YouthBuild for the past couple of months has been a really great experience for me. The students have taught me a lot about persevering through struggles and difficulties and becoming a better person. Some of the students that I have encountered have told me how YouthBuild has changed them for the better and it makes me happy that there is a place where the students can get a second chance to become better people.

One interaction with a student that was particularly powerful for me was with a student who was having a rough time with school because of personal issues. At such a young age, she has a child to raise, had negative thoughts of herself, and had somewhat of a troubled home life. Even with all she was going through, she still managed to come to school and produce quality work. This is a person who is determined to become better and live better. Her determination is definitely something I admire.

I feel like I make a difference at YouthBuild when students openly ask for help and actually take in the advice I give. It can be difficult to ask for help especially from someone you really don’t know. It makes me feel good when they apply the information I gave them to their work and then say “Thank you Ms. Kia, that helped out a lot!”

Another thing I love about YouthBuild is that there are young people helping young people. Many of the staff members are young and who better to help and guide you than someone who understands you and the time that you live in. A better rapport is built when the students feel like the staff can relate to them in some way.


Thank you Kia!