YouthBuild's growing mission

Taylor Frome is director of YesPhilly. APRIL SAUL / Staff
Taylor Frome is director of YesPhilly. APRIL SAUL / Staff
Posted: April 06, 2012

It was 1991, and Taylor Frome had spent more than four years with the Crisis Intervention Network, then with the Philadelphia Anti-Drug Anti-Violence Network, trying to keep the lid on youth violence in North Philadelphia.

Frome, now executive director of Youth Empowerment Services (YesPhilly), became aware there was a point at which some of those young people began looking for opportunities to lead better lives.

Her search for a program offering that second chance led her to the South Bronx, where Dorothy Stoneman had founded YouthBuild USA in 1978 to get young people ages 18 to 21 back into school to get their high school diplomas while also receiving on-the-job training in the construction trades.

Almost all the students are from low-income households, with 10 percent homeless at any given time. About 70 percent have been expelled or suspended from their previous schools, 48 percent have been arrested, and 24 percent have served time at a detention facility, data provided by YouthBuild show.

Since YouthBuild was established in Philadelphia in 1992, more than 1,700 students have graduated from the program, which combines classroom work with training in construction, health care, and technology. Local, state, and federal sources provide 84 percent of the funding, with the rest from private donations.

In addition, the 213 students currently enrolled at the YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School on North Broad Street - 900 applications are received annually for 220 available spots - participate in a host of community-service projects and receive counseling to choose career goals.

"Each year, 70 percent to 80 percent of YouthBuild graduates are placed in postsecondary education, employment, or year of service - AmeriCorps, City Year, and others," said Meredith Molloy, YouthBuild's development director.

"The majority of our alumni pursue postsecondary education as their first step after graduation," she said, adding that that has been a focus of the program "influenced by the economy, as well as workforce trends requiring an advanced credential or additional education for entry-level employment opportunities."

The tracking specifically for employment began only with recent graduating classes, Molloy said, with about 26 percent of last year's class being placed directly in jobs after leaving.

In the first three years of the program, 13 houses in South Philadelphia - YouthBuild was quartered in the United Community Services building at Sixth and Catharine Streets - were rehabbed for low-income owners. That number now exceeds 70.

To round out the picture, add to that the 2,500 computers that technology students have refurbished and donated, the 5,000 hours of care they have provided for residents in long-term facilities, and the thousands of hours of community-service activities they have performed.

Green-building techniques were introduced into construction classes a few years back, and the school has aligned its science curriculum to teach the principles behind sustainability.

In 2009, a rehab project in the city's Nicetown neighborhood was the first YouthBuild effort that completely integrated green-building techniques.

Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com, or follow @alheavens on Twitter.

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