Dorothy Stoneman, who founded the first YouthBuild site nearly 40 years ago and grew it into a national, federally funded staple of the youth services community, announced that she will retire next January.
“Inspired constantly by the energy of young people seeking a chance to rebuild their lives and communities, I have been lucky and happy to spend the last 38 years, in partnership with so many wonderful people, building this organization and guiding this movement through the many stages of its development,” said Stoneman, in an e-mail sent to colleagues and friends.
Stoneman established the first YouthBuild site in Harlem in 1978. New York City used tax levy funds to proliferate the program across the five boroughs from 1984 until 1988. As it is today, the program targets high school dropouts between the ages of 16 and 24.
Two years later, Stoneman founded YouthBuild USA and set out to replicate her model on the national level. By 1992, YouthBuild USA had set up 20 programs in 11 states.
Stoneman’s early success in proliferating the program earned YouthBuild the “Holy Grail” of federal support: a dedicated line item in the appropriations process, established through legislation introduced by former Sen. and current Secretary of State John Kerry. Through that line item, $60 million in federal funds annually flowed to support local YouthBuild programs.
The federal pipeline almost burst In fiscal 2006, when the Bush administration recommended that YouthBuild’s appropriation be moved to the Department of Labor from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Stoneman, convinced there would be more room to grow at Labor, endorsed the plan.
But because of a technicality – there was no legislation passed approving the move in departments – the House Appropriations Committee authorized neither HUD nor DOL to fund YouthBuild. The program was saved when it was written into the final conference report for HUD, but its funding had been reduced to $50 million.
YouthBuild’s federal support jumped to $120 million in 2009, with an infusion of cash supplied through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Since then, it has settled in at about $80 million.
Local YouthBuild sites vary in the level of service delivery. But in general, once young people are deemed eligible and enrolled, they participate in a six- to twelve-month program that includes case management and counseling, work-readiness training, and preparation for postsecondary education. Follow-up services are also available for at least nine months following graduation to support future success.
Research firm MDRC is currently conducting a random assignment study of YouthBuild using 75 of its 260 U.S. programs.
Stoneman, who will turn 75 next year and recently became a grandmother, suggested in her letter to colleagues a desire to leave before the grind caught up to her.
“While my health is excellent, and my energy and commitment to the cause remain high, I don’t know how long that will last,” said Stoneman. “I do now get tired after 12 hours of work a day, when I used to happily work 16. So something is changing and it would be fun to have some years when I do not constantly have lists of hundreds of things that I am obligated to do within a tight time frame.”
She intends to remain involved with Opportunity Youth United, a network of adults who graduated from YouthBuild and similar programs.
“Many of our young leaders are now in their twenties, thirties, and even forties, and their time has come to seize the moment and build the broader movement to end poverty and injustice,” said Stoneman.