In 1978, Dorothy Stoneman, current president of Opportunity Youth United and our founder, asked neighborhood teens in East Harlem how they would like to improve their community. They answered, “We’d rebuild the houses. We’d take empty buildings back from the drug dealers and eliminate crime.” This was the genesis of the YouthBuild (YB) program, which later expanded its program offerings and became incorporated as Youth Action Programs and Homes, Inc., in 1984. Those young people went on to complete the gut rehabilitation of an abandoned 4-story tenement building, which today serves as low income apartments, the site of Youth Action’s administrative offices and the Youth Action YouthBuild (YAYB) program space today.
Following the first building rehabilitation project completed by young people in East Harlem, the YouthBuild program was replicated in five more New York City communities, and began an ongoing dissemination of its program model. In 1990, YouthBuild USA was founded to scale-up YouthBuild as a proven social innovation to widely break the cycle of poverty. Two years later, the program was replicated nationally, starting up in 20 additional cities. There are now 260 US-based YouthBuild programs in 48 states, Washington, DC, and the Virgin Islands, engaging nearly 10,000 YouthBuild students each year, as well as international programs located in 15 countries, including South Africa, Mexico, and Haiti. Since 1994, YouthBuild students across the US have produced 28,000 units of affordable, increasingly green, housing.
As the YouthBuild movement has expanded from its birthplace in East Harlem, Youth Action, the organization that started it all has continued to serve the local community. The vision of the agency continues to grow and evolve to best serve the needs of the community, yet maintains the core values of affirming and educating young people, and cultivating in them the tools to empower themselves.
Dorothy Stoneman, Chairperson
Founder, YouthBuild USA
President/ Founder, Opportunity Youth United
Getz Obstfeld, Vice Chairperson
President, Community Developers, Inc.
Sierra Stoneman-Bell, Secretary
Project Lead/Consultant, Literacy Assistance Center
Executive Director, Manhattan Education Opportunity Center
Johnny C. Rivera
FAIA Architect & Sculptor (Retired), Phoenix House
Karen Schub Epstein
Independent Social Impact Strategist
NYC Office of the Comptroller
Harlem Liaison & Citywide NYCHA Manager
Chief Executive Officer, Development Assistance and Management Partners
Vice President of Labor and Strategic Initiatives, COMCAST Corporation
CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute
Director of Strategic Partnerships