A major new study by CIRCLE, Pathways into Leadership: A Study of YouthBuild Graduates, shows that a significant number of YouthBuild graduates go on to become leaders in their careers and communities. Many of them hold public office or are church officials. More than one-third of the students surveyed for the study have become professional educators or youth workers.
The study was conducted by Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) – the nation’s leading non-partisan, research center on the political and civic participation of young Americans. Fully funded by the Knight Foundation. the work is part of CIRCLE’s larger efforts to understand the civic engagement of young people with no college experience.
The study was conducted by surveying a diverse sample of 344 YouthBuild alumni and conducting extensive interviews with 54 graduates. It demonstrates that YouthBuild has had a profound effect in developing the leadership skills and civic engagement of young people. In YouthBuild programs, low-income young people ages 16-24 work full-time for 6-24 months toward their GEDs or high school diplomas while learning job skills by building affordable, increasingly green housing in their communities.
The findings are extraordinary because these alumni, mostly young people of color from low-income households, have emerged as civic leaders despite facing severe disadvantages. Almost all the alumni interviewed for the study had left high school without a diploma, some involuntarily. Many were victims of violence. One third of the alumni were parents when they began the YouthBuild program. Others were homeless. Some had been in gangs or convicted of crimes. Almost half expected that they would be dead by early adulthood. With the help of YouthBuild’s innovative leadership-development and community-service model, these young people’s life trajectories have been changed.
The evaluation had quantitative, qualitative, and observational aspects, and a dimension of community-based participatory research. We sought to combine the special assets of YouthBuild alumni (deep knowledge of their own program, cultural sensitivity, and trusting relationships with peers), YouthBuild USA’s national leaders (grasp of the program’s origins, history, and theories of change), and CIRCLE staff (independence and rigorous methodological skills) by working together as a diverse team.
“This was an ambitious and rigorous evaluation based on a survey, in-depth interviews with a diverse sample of 54 alumni, and observations of meetings and events.” said CIRCLE Director Peter Levine, “It demonstrates conclusively that a substantial cadre of highly disadvantaged young people have moved from very poor life prospects to exemplary civic leadership because of their participation in YouthBuild’s leadership-development programs.”
Tisch College’s CIRCLE (The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement) is the leading source of authoritative research on civic and political engagement of Americans between the ages of 15 and 25.
Originally published June 2012