“How would you improve your community if you had adult support?”
Dorothy Stoneman, now president of YouthBuild USA, asked East Harlem teenagers this question in 1978.
“We’d rebuild the houses. We’d take empty buildings back from the drug dealers and eliminate crime,” said the young people. Together, they and Stoneman formed the Youth Action Program (this first YouthBuild program is still operating in New York City) and renovated the first YouthBuild building.
The teenagers’ successful renovation of the East Harlem tenement led the Youth Action Program to form a citywide coalition in 1984 to replicate the program. The coalition won city tax-levy funds that enabled 20,000 New York City youth to obtain education and job training in various community improvement projects.
When national demand to replicate the program made it clear that it should spread beyond New York City, Stoneman and Leroy Looper founded YouthBuild USA in 1990 to scale up YouthBuild as a proven innovation to break the cycle of poverty. By 1992, the program had been replicated in 20 cities with private and local funds, and legislation authorizing the federal YouthBuild program was passed. In 1994, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) granted 31 local YouthBuild programs their first federal grants.
In 2006, at the recommendation of the White House, Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and John Kerry (D-MA) led the transfer of the YouthBuild program from HUD to the US Department of Labor (DOL). In 2007, DOL began managing the federal YouthBuild program, making grants to local organizations, administered by the Employment and Training Administration (ETA).
There are now 273 YouthBuild programs nationwide making a profound difference for local students and communities in 46 states, Washington, DC. and the Virgin Islands. Community- and faith-based nonprofit organizations sponsor most YouthBuild programs, many of which are led by social entrepreneurs who started YouthBuild in their communities, just like Dorothy Stoneman, recipient of the 2007-2013 Skoll Foundation Award for Social Entrepreneurship, started the first YouthBuild program in East Harlem in 1978.
YouthBuild programs have won majority bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, allowing the number of programs and students to increase each year. Since 1994, HUD and DOL have awarded YouthBuild grants and contracts totaling more than $1.0 billion to local community and faith-based organizations.
For more information on YouthBuild’s first 20 years, download the YouthBuild Story of Thanks written by Dorothy Stoneman in 1998.