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CIRCLE Study Shows YouthBuild Builds Leaders

Our research finds that this nonprofit which provides training and employment to young adults also teaches valuable civic skills.

A major new study by CIRCLE, Pathways into Leadership: A Study of YouthBuild Graduates, shows that a significant number of YouthBuild graduates go on to become leaders in their careers and communities. Many of them hold public office or are church officials. More than one-third of the students surveyed for the study have become professional educators or youth workers.

The study was fully funded by the Knight Foundation. The report was distributed today during the White House Summit on Community Solutions for Disconnected Youth.

The study was conducted by surveying a diverse sample of 344 YouthBuild alumni and conducting extensive interviews with 54 graduates. It demonstrates that YouthBuild has had a profound effect in developing the leadership skills and civic engagement of young people.

The findings are extraordinary because these alumni, mostly young people of color from low-income households, have emerged as civic leaders despite facing severe disadvantages. Almost all the alumni interviewed for the study had left high school without a diploma, some involuntarily. Many were victims of violence. One third of the alumni were parents when they began the YouthBuild program. Others were homeless. Some had been in gangs or convicted of crimes. Almost half expected that they would be dead by early adulthood. With the help of YouthBuild’s innovative leadership-development and community-service model, these young people’s life trajectories have been changed.

The evaluation had quantitative, qualitative, and observational aspects, and a dimension of community-based participatory research. We sought to combine the special assets of YouthBuild alumni (deep knowledge of their own program, cultural sensitivity, and trusting relationships with peers), YouthBuild USA’s national leaders (grasp of the program’s origins, history, and theories of change), and CIRCLE staff (independence and rigorous methodological skills) by working together as a diverse team.

“This was an ambitious and rigorous evaluation based on a survey, in-depth interviews with a diverse sample of 54 alumni, and observations of meetings and events.” said CIRCLE Director Peter Levine, “It demonstrates conclusively that a substantial cadre of highly disadvantaged young people have moved from very poor life prospects to exemplary civic leadership because of their participation in YouthBuild’s leadership-development programs.”

CIRCLE Presents at the White House

CIRCLE staffers Dr. Peter Levine, Abby Kiesa, and new summer fellow Vanessa Williams were at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill to participate in and, in Levine’s case, speak on behalf of CIRCLE’s report on YouthBuild U.S.A. and the programs Leadership Program. This Congressional staff briefing on the research was convened by Representatives Robert Dold (R-IL) and John Lewis (D-GA).

Gathered were a diverse group of attendees—spanning staff for Congressional Representatives, other national organizations, and graduates of the program alike. The panel of four, including Jamie Turner and Jamiel Alexander, both YouthBuild alumni, Dr. Levine, and Dorothy Stoneman, CEO and Founder of the program, spoke on various aspects of YouthBuild’s work with youth, emphasizing how far-reaching it is, as well as the tremendous transformation their alumni have made since entering the program.

The purpose of this report and event was to talk about the impact of the leadership program after graduation. This revealed wild successes of the program’s alumni. Participation in YouthBuild U.S.A. is a transformative process for many youth. Taking youth aged 16-24 and enrolling them in holistic development-type programming, these young people not only graduate and become leaders in their respective communities, but they also become constructive citizens who believe, as Dr. Levine summarized, “important in [their] community; [their] community is important to [them.] That is how [they] build [their] premise for everything else.”

For example, Jamiel Alexander, a YouthBuild graduate, poignantly summarized how personal development within YouthBuild occurs. It begins with a focus on self, then community, followed by world. Highlighting the relationship between one individual and the world, Alexander reinforced the individual social responsibility that YouthBuild strives to drive home. Alexander spoke to an equally important point about how YouthBuild prepares their youth for times of adversity, proclaiming, “YouthBuild teaches you not just how to rise, but how to sustain.”

Although CIRCLE is an organization dedicated to producing facts and figures on measurable data outcomes, participants report that the “ripple effect” of each class of YouthBuild students is widespread, and therefore difficult to fully calculate. By equipping their alumni with the resilience to thrive during life’s most daunting obstacles, YouthBuild provides both physical and emotional support to all of its participants. The graduates’ responses on the uniqueness of YouthBuild made priceless qualitative data for CIRCLE to analyze.