Dorothy Stoneman, founder of , has retired after leading the acclaimed nonprofit organization for thirty-eight years, the reports.
YouthBuild began when Stoneman, a Harvard graduate, and a group of teenagers came together to rehabilitate an abandoned building in East Harlem. YouthBuild programs offer pathways to education, jobs, entrepreneurship, and other opportunities for low-income, disconnected, and/or formerly incarcerated youth by training them in the construction skills they need to build affordable housing, playgrounds, and community centers. Now headquartered in Somerville, Massachusetts, the organization has grown to include two hundred and sixty programs in forty-six states, as well as eighty YouthBuild International programs in twenty-one countries. The organization — which has served about a hundred and sixty thousand young people, mostly between the ages of 16 and 11 — is known for building not only housing but the confidence of and a strong foundation for young people who had been considered lost causes.
"The whole program was designed as a transformational experience for an oppressed young person," said Stoneman, who is 74. "The fact that we've been able to spread it to hundreds of places, that in itself is a great achievement." Stoneman's work with the organization won her a so-called "genius grant" from the in 1996 and the John W. Gardner Leadership Award from in 2000. She will be succeeded by John B. Valverde, who himself spent sixteen years in prison, earned college degrees and a master's in urban ministry from the , helped teach fellow inmates to read and write, and co-founded , the first privately funded accredited college program in New York State's prison system.
As a senator from Massachusetts, Secretary of State John Kerry was persuaded to push for federal funding for the organization by, according to the Times, participants telling him, "This is the first time in my life that someone said I love you or that they care about me." "This saved my life. The kids were the best advocates of all," Kerry added.
Nina Saxon, a former participant, was a high school dropout when she joined YouthBuild in 1997. She worked on a project to rehabilitate a building on 117th Street, where she was in charge of the cement block, before earning her GED and graduating from Morgan State University in Baltimore; she now works in that city comptroller's office. "They taught me that my life wasn't over because I didn't finish school," said Saxon. "No matter what happens in your life, you can truly fix it."