For those that I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting or who haven’t seen YouthBuild’s latest updates, I am Le’Yondo Dunn, the newly appointed CEO of YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School. I first joined YouthBuild as the Chief Program Officer last school year, and I am truly thrilled to have been chosen by the Board of Trustees to step into this new leadership role. I am acutely aware that I stand on the shoulders of giants, including leaders, students, alumni, and staff, and I eagerly anticipate collaborating with those who are poised to carry the torch forward as I embrace the most significant professional responsibility of my career.

As a proud native of Southeastern Louisiana and a product of public primary and secondary education, I understand the aspirations and challenges that many of our students face. Their determination inspires me to create a safe, inclusive environment where they can push boundaries and become the best versions of themselves, while receiving unwavering support from their remarkable peers and colleagues. I take great pride in having fostered these opportunities in previous schools and in my prior role at YouthBuild, and am excited to work with long-standing and new partners and collaborators to help students excel academically, professionally, and as community leaders.

The current 2023-2024 school year signifies a pivotal moment in our journey as we bid farewell to our current school building and prepare to move into a state-of-the-art facility meticulously designed to cater to the evolving needs of YouthBuild Philly students and staff. This transition also reinforces our commitment to sustainability, community investment, and empowering young leaders. Before this move, we remain dedicated to ensuring the success of our largest enrollment class ever, with 264 new students becoming part of our community this September.

To continue providing transformative experiences for our young people in 2023-24 and beyond, we rely on your support, and invite you to join us in this endeavor. Our newest cohort of young leaders follows in the footsteps of outstanding alumni like Erica (Class of 2019) and Tarif (Class of 2023), who have bravely shared their stories of personal growth and empowerment, serving as beacons of inspiration for incoming students. We also take immense pride in introducing our new Principal, Kazmir Davis, who assumes her role after nearly two decades of dedication to what she affectionately refers to as “The Work.” You can learn more about each of these remarkable individuals by scrolling through this page.

As we bid farewell to our current space and keenly anticipate our new building, we ask for your investment in continuing to offer the highest quality services to our brilliant young minds. Typical first-time gifts to YouthBuild average around $100, and we hope you’ll considering making a donation of this amount or any gift size that suits you in recognition of the foundation built by the giants #WhoCameBefore. Visit to donate today. If you have any inquiries regarding your donation or how it will be utilized, please feel free to reach out to our Individual Giving Manager, Theo Molloy, at

Let us honor those #WhoCameBefore by generously supporting #WhoGotNext. We extend our heartfelt gratitude for your commitment to YouthBuild Philly. Your support for our school and our young people is truly appreciated, and we hope for the opportunity to reconnect with you in the near future.

Warm regards,

Le’Yondo Dunn

Chief Executive Officer

PS: For the latest updates on our new building, please visit

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Alumni Success

Erica Wiggins, Class of 2019

Erica (Class of 2019) came to YouthBuild with some admitted skepticism. “I was pretty stand-offish,” she remembers; “I was there to get my diploma and get out, not worried about making friends or connections.” With a smile and a laugh, she says “that lasted exactly two days.” From the start of mental toughness, Erica’s energy and enthusiasm were infectious, and eventually she became a student who would be the first to arrive and the last to leave, mostly because she enjoyed being around staff members so much.

Asked to name a specific staff member who had an impact on her, Erica doesn’t hesitate: “Mr George – he is just a gem of a man.” GreenBuild instructor George Jenkins supported Erica and her classmates through hard times, but Erica especially remembers how genuine and thoughtful he was in preparing students for life beyond YouthBuild. “Everyday, he would check in and make sure that we had what we needed – that we were ready to be present,” and this simple mindfulness exercise went a long way for Erica and her peers. 

While continuing to work through mental health issues, Erica had a family crisis about halfway through the school year, and was encouraged by a staff member to seek counseling support in and out of school. She took the advice and describes these services as “so perfectly catered to young people – they really helped me to flourish.” With a clearer sense of self, Erica was able to continue to pursue her goals and deepen connections to peers and staff, while also recognizing things about her personality that may have been a hindrance for her growth. “I realized that I’ve always been a perfectionist, and my focus on doing one or two things perfectly held me back from doing so many other things well.” Working through this helped Erica to thrive and pursue multiple personal and professional goals at once.

Immediately upon graduating, Erica did a year of service with PowerCorps PHL to strengthen her skills and community connections. From there, she took a role at The Discovery Center in Fairmount Park, serving as both a receptionist and a member of the maintenance team. She loved being able to work with her hands, and to have encouragement from visitors who commented on her work – “it was really nice to feel validated when they shared their appreciation for the landscaping.” Above all, however, this role encouraged Erica to be more involved in her community and connected to sustainability and environmental efforts.

With some of the connections she’d made at The Discovery Center, Erica took on a role as an outdoor educator at the Philadelphia Outward Bound School located on site. In this capacity, she’s able to connect young people from across Philadelphia to the natural environment through teambuilding exercises, hikes and exploration activities, and even climbing and ropes courses. Asked to identify what she likes most about this job, she quickly says “working at Outward Bound allows me to tick so many personal and professional boxes – I love being able to build community through physical activity and connections to nature.”

This commitment to wellness informs Erica’s current side hustle, as well as her goals for the future. “I came up with the idea for an all organic skincare company – EXO Organics – in 2019 and launched in 2021,” she proudly shares. Currently, most of her sales come through online sales and local makers markets – but she has big goals. “I want to be able to use the brand to give back to community organizations – specifically those related to the environment and homelessness,” two issues that are personally meaningful to her. She half-jokes, “I’d also like to be able to cut a big check the next time I visit YouthBuild, because you all have helped me so much.”

Tarif Lee, Class of 2023

Tarif (Class of 2023) came to YouthBuild after seeing firsthand the impact the school had on his two older sisters – even though the more recent graduate in the family had done her entire year virtually due to the pandemic. Still, he was eager to step out of their shadows and show himself and those around him what he was capable of. “Most of the staff knew (my sister), but also recognized potential in me and saw how different we were, and that really meant a lot,” Tarif shares when thinking about his early days at YouthBuild.

Tarif’s leadership development came about very organically, as his instructors immediately identified him as someone who could motivate others – even if he did so quietly. “YouthBuild really allowed me to come out of my shell,” he notes as he remembers very early conversations with a number of staff members who were particularly impactful on motivating him in those early days. Tarif remembers “Ms. Erika especially was someone who made me want to keep coming to school everyday… and Mr. Ron’s worksite really solidified that experience for me.” Beyond these two staff members, Tarif reels off a handful of others – and almost a dozen peers – who were instrumental in motivating him to be the best leader he could be.

While Tarif wasn’t always ready to step up for himself, he “knew that if I could make someone else’s day better, it would be a great day.” This daily manifestation of leadership made Tarif a constant welcoming and friendly presence across various parts of YouthBuild’s programming – from a worksite leader to peer advocate, and from spokesperson in meetings with elected officials to team manager for the school’s basketball team. He was even selected to represent YouthBuild on a service trip to New Orleans and the surrounding region.

Tarif continued to grow into the leader others had seen, and eventually (but humbly) recognized himself as a leader as well. He began to grow more confident thanks to the feedback and reinforcement he got from friends, classmates and YouthBuild staff – “The self-doubt just sort of went away – I started to think ‘if I’m right about this, what else am I right about?’” After graduating with honors, Tarif had his choice between two distinct but successful postsecondary options: work or college.

Tarif visited Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology twice during the school year, and on his second visit met with staff from the school’s renowned architecture program. He was able to procure an invite to the program – but around the same time was also promoted at work to assistant shift lead, and again just a few weeks before he was scheduled to move onto campus to assistant store manager in-training. At that point, he decided to defer on his decision to attend Thaddeus Stevens – “I knew that the option would always be there, so I wanted to keep the momentum I had going in my career.” Eventually, Tarif would like to be a full-time video game designer, and his experience in the industry (working at GameStop) will pay immediate dividends as he continues to work on his game ideas – at Thaddeus, the architecture design software he will use is very similar to the software engines he’s been tinkering with to build current games.

Through it all, Tarif reflects on his time at YouthBuild with his usual humble manner – “the best thing I was able to do at YB was help put a smile on people’s faces – that’s all that matters.”

New Leader Profile – School Principal

Kazmir Davis

Principal Kazmir Davis began her educational career in Prince George’s County, Maryland after graduating from Temple University. While studying at the University of Maryland and teaching in public schools, she returned home to Philadelphia after tragedy struck her – a dear loved one had been the victim of gun violence in West Philadelphia. During the trial for the young man who had taken her loved one’s life, Mrs. Davis came to realize that despite the defendant’s horrible decision, he had potential and promise that would not be realized because systems had failed him and so many other young Black and Brown people in her community. As a way to navigate her grief, she was inspired to return home to do her part to address these systems and help lead in spaces and places that encouraged young people to engage in self-discovery, acquire skills, develop their talents and embark on a path to achieve their goals and pursue their dreams.

Upon returning to Philadelphia, Mrs. Davis immersed herself into “The Work” of serving as an educator, mentor, advocate, coach and cheerleader for those who are too often unheard, unseen, undervalued and underappreciated.

Over the course of her twenty years in the work, serving in teacher and leader positions within The School District of Philadelphia, KIPP Philadelphia Public Schools and Mastery Charter Schools, Kazmir continued to grow her organizational leadership skills while remaining dedicated to her personal philosophy that all young people should feel empowered to attain skills and knowledge to achieve their potential, positively impact their livelihood and career opportunities, recognize their ability to lead and serve in their community, and contribute to the greatness of society.

This journey brought Principal Davis to YouthBuild Philly for the 2023-2024 school year with a vision to enhance opportunities for young people by building upon and strengthening the foundation laid by those #WhoCameBefore. Mrs. Davis is already working to ensure that YouthBuild has in place the resources and structure to ensure that young people are challenged, supported and motivated to achieve their personal and professional aspirations. She is also reinforcing her own commitment to lifelong learning by pursuing graduate studies at Holy Family University on top of her responsibilities as an educator, entrepreneur, wife and mother of two gifted boys. Her personality and leadership shine through in the heartfelt connections she’s able to make with students by showcasing her passion, empathy, humor, joy and wisdom every minute she spends in our community, and her commitment to “The Work” inspires her team to continue to strive for better opportunities and outcomes for the young people #WhoGotNext.

Thank you for your support of YouthBuild Philly. We hope you will consider making a generous tax-deductible gift today.

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