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YouthBuild was founded by Dorothy Stoneman in East Harlem, New York. The movement has grown to impact thousands across the globe with education and skills training. 

In 1978, Dorothy Stoneman asked the young people she worked with as a teacher and organizer in East Harlem, New York, how they would change their community if they had adult support.

“We’d rebuild the houses. We’d take empty buildings back from the drug dealers and eliminate crime,” they answered.

By combining construction, education, leadership training and love, Stoneman founded YouthBuild and created the core elements of its model as her fledgling organization renovated an abandoned tenement building in East Harlem.


In 1984, Stoneman and a coalition of youth-serving programs in New York City orchestrated YouthBuild’s expansion citywide. In 1988, YouthBuild began to spread nationally, and in 1990, YouthBuild USA was formed as a support center for the movement, with Stoneman as its CEO.

A federal funding stream for YouthBuild programs was established in 1992 through bipartisan legislation championed by former Senator John Kerry (D-MA). The YouthBuild grant program was later moved from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Department of Labor, where it remains today.

By 2000, the YouthBuild movement began its international expansion, starting in South Africa, and in 2007, YouthBuild International was created to respond to the growing need globally.

Stoneman was succeeded by John Valverde in January 2017 after leading and growing the YouthBuild movement for almost 40 years. Valverde became the first previously incarcerated individual to lead a nonprofit with a global mission.

The original program, Youth Action YouthBuild, remains in the same storefront in East Harlem, having created hundreds of permanently affordable housing units and helped thousands of young people transform their lives.

Today, there are nearly 300 YouthBuild programs across the United States and around the world. To date, YouthBuild has partnered with more than 180,000 young people to dedicate over 50 million hours of service benefitting urban, rural, and tribal communities.