It all started in 1978 when a group of East Harlem teenagers were posed the question of what could be done to improve their community. Their answer was simple: “We’d rebuild the houses...We’d take empty buildings back from the drug dealers and eliminate crime.” And they did.
Built upon these youth’s eagerness to continue improving their community and the communities around them, and with the help of East Harlem Block Schools Executive Director Dorothy Stoneman, YouthBuild was born. Originally founded as the Youth Action Program, which still exists today, YouthBuild USA was established in 1984.
YouthBuild USA is doing more than just promoting community service. WFMZ-TV, an Eastern Pennsylvania news station, said that the organization “teaches young people, often high school drop-outs, valuable skills. They also get their GED and often go to college, and the homes they renovate help rebuild low-income communities.” Many of the graduates who go into community colleges and four-year colleges pursue degrees in fields such as business, psychology, sociology, and education. A few graduates also return to YouthBuild as volunteers, program leaders, and even as a presenter for TEDX Talks in Washington, DC.
Graduates of the program also continue in the construction industry. Ruben Castro, a graduate of YouthBuild USA from the Austin, Texas area, writes:
“I worked toward earning my high school diploma while learning green construction skills. On my first day, I didn’t even know how to read the marks on a tape measure. When I graduated, I was OSHA-certified and building energy-efficient homes for local low-income families, very much like my own. More than anything, YouthBuild teachers and students supported each other and held one another accountable for our actions. My life went from dysfunctional to functional.”
The WFMZ-TV article highlighted a recent graduate of the YouthBuild program in the construction industry. Pamela Brooks praises YouthBuild for their commitment to their program participants. Brooks comments that YouthBuild “helped me with everything. Day care, as far as getting to the program, even when I didn't want to come they made sure they called my house phone just to make sure I got up to be there." The news piece also discusses women in the construction industry and how Brooks plans to “break down the walls of bias by teaching other young women to build walls of homes.”
What began as six YouthBuild programs in the New York City neighborhoods grew into 20 programs in 11 states by 1990. As of 2014, there are 360 YouthBuild programs worldwide, 260 in the United States and 100 internationally.
In 2014, YouthBuild globally had:
- 16,000 young people were engaged as YouthBuild participants
- 4 million hours of community-service leadership hours were performed
- 2,300 community-asset building projects, including 2,000 units of affordable housing, were completed
- 8,000 YouthBuild graduates were placed in jobs, education, entrepreneurship, and other opportunities leading to productive livelihoods
In 2014, in the United States:
- 77% of all enrollees obtained their high school equivalency credentials, high school diplomas, and/or industry-recognized credentials
- 61% of all enrollees went on to postsecondary education or jobs
- 72% of those placed retained their placement for at least six months
- Recidivism rates within one year of enrollment for all court-involved YouthBuild students averaged 9%