YouthBuild: I Transformed a Home, but the Experience Transformed My Life

Ciera Russum, a member of the Advanced Construction team at YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School.

My name is Ciera Russum and I’m a member of the Advanced Construction team at YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School. We worked with the Green Building team to complete a full-gut rehab project on Greene Street.

In the past year, this house was completely transformed. So was my life. When I first saw the house, there were holes in the floor and the wallpaper was peeling all the way down to the brick. It was literally an abandoned house. I had a lot of doubts about whether I could complete the program, and a lot of doubts about whether a group of inexperienced students could rebuild the home.

Thanks to our instructors, the Saint-Gobain Corporation Foundation and the building scientists at CertainTeed, we’ve learned new building skills that have opened my eyes to what I can do with my life. Sometimes this year I would come home from working on the house and try out things I’d learned on my mom’s house – like fixing a hole in her ceiling! Before YouthBuild I’d never even picked up a piece of pipe in my life; now I will be attending Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in the fall to study plumbing.

Greene Street home pre-renovation

While we’ve refurbished the house on Greene Street, we’ve also refurbished our lives at YouthBuild. I’ve learned important life skills like teamwork, time management, and being able to trust others. I have learned how to take criticism, and how to be a leader who is responsible for the success of a project.

Working on the Greene Street Project has given me so much confidence. I had doubted that we could succeed in rebuilding this house, but we did it and it looks amazing. This makes me imagine all the things I used to doubt, that I actually can do.

This house makes me feel like I can do just about anything.

More than 125 students from YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School partnered with Saint Gobain Corporation Foundation and in less than 18 months successfully reconstructed a home in Germantown, Philadelphia.

Editor’s Note: The author, Ciera Russum is a student in the Advanced Construction program at YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School.

The Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration has administered the YouthBuild program since September 2006. YouthBuild provides job training and educational opportunities for at-risk youth ages 16-24 while constructing or rehabilitating affordable housing for low-income or homeless families in their own neighborhoods. Youth split their time between the construction site and the classroom, where they earn their GED or high school diploma, learn to be community leaders, and prepare for college and other postsecondary training opportunities. Currently, there are more than 220 DOL funded YouthBuild programs in 43 states, serving over 6000 youth per year.

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