When Dorothy Stoneman asked her East Harlem students, some 30 years ago how they would improve their community with the help of adults, she was astounded by the answer. They wanted to rebuild houses, take back empty buildings and eliminate crime. Answers that led Stoneman to the belief that everyone, all human beings, have the desire to serve and to do meaningful work is universal.
Having earned her BA from Harvard, and both a masters degree and doctorate from Bank Street College of Education, Stoneman joined the Civil Rights Movement in 1964, when she rode a bus to the offices of the Harlem Action Group to ask if she could volunteer. From there she went on to work and live in Harlem as a teacher for the next 24 years.
In 1978, Stoneman and her students formed the Youth Action Program, which allowed them to successfully renovate what would become the first YouthBuild building, in 1979. Their program was replicated all over the city of New York in 1984, and in 1990, YouthBuild was officially formed to replicate the program all over the country.
YouthBuild's mission is to give kids the resources they need to be able to take back and rebuild their neighborhoods, thus combining effective community development and youth service. Youth are enthusiastically involved in every step of the process, from the inception of ideas to the renovation and building. Stoneman's desire for YouthBuild is that it unleashes the potential, the intelligence, and the positive energy of kids from low-income neighborhoods to rebuild their communities and their lives.
Stoneman's work has not gone unnoticed. She received the MacArthur Genius Grant in 1996, the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship in 2007, and was named one of the 50 most influential non-profit leaders of 2008 by Non Profit Times. She is a senior fellow at Ashoka and served on the Task Force to End Poverty for the Center of American Progress. To date, YouthBuild has 226 programs nation-wide and 1,000 member organizations in 42 states, as well as Washington D.C. and the US Virgin Islands. They have won bi-partisan support in both houses of Congress and have been awarded more the $500 million from HUD, which has been brought in to hundreds of low-income communities.