Adapting to Local Context

Findings from the YouthBuild Evaluation Implementation Study

By Andrew Wiegand, Michelle S. Manno, Sengsouvanh (Sukey) Leshnick, Louisa Treskon, Christian Geckeler, Heather Lewis-Charp, Castle Sinicrope, Mika Clark, Brandon Nicholson

YouthBuild is intended to help high school dropouts, ages 16 to 24, who face an array of impediments to their educational and employment success as they progress into adulthood. Stemming from one program launched in the late 1970s, today over 270 YouthBuild programs operate nationwide. YouthBuild is a principles-based model that values a family-like environment, in which young people are cared for, respected, and empowered by staff members who understand their experiences and serve as role models, all while providing meaningful work and educational opportunities. Programs have rigorous recruitment processes and applicants undergo an extensive assessment process. Once young people are deemed eligible and enrolled, YouthBuild staff members identify their needs and work with them to develop goals. Over 6 to 12 months, young people participate in youth-driven education and vocational training, community service and leadership development, 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. This comprehensive set of services is provided in classrooms, on construction sites or other work sites, in the community, in groups, and individually; young people also typically receive modest stipends during their participation. The YouthBuild evaluation focused exclusively on a subset of 75 YouthBuild programs funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Corporation for National and Community Service, operating throughout the United States.

Key Findings

  • Programs in the evaluation were highly diverse, varying in their geography, longevity, funding, and staffing. Overall, the 75 programs in the evaluation were highly similar to the overall pool of programs receiving federal funding during the study period, suggesting that findings from the impact study to come will be representative of the broader pool of programs.

  • The YouthBuild programs in the evaluation extensively screened applicants prior to enrollment yet programs still enrolled a disadvantaged and at-risk population. Because of the screening, young people who did enroll were more likely to be highly motivated to succeed than the general population eligible for YouthBuild.

  • The YouthBuild model is not highly prescriptive. It was consciously designed to allow YouthBuild programs to vary its implementation in response to local conditions. Variation is introduced by differences in the philosophies of the organizations sponsoring programs, their sources of program funding, their competing funding priorities or performance measures, and their community contexts.

  • Based on information collected from interviews with YouthBuild staff members and participants, YouthBuild was implemented with reasonably high fidelity to the core model by the programs in this evaluation. However, due to local adaptations, fidelity to the model was manifested in different ways; any two programs might operate differently while still maintaining strong overall fidelity. Fidelity was highest in vocational services but varied more across programs in youth leadership, community service, and postsecondary education.

Document Details

Publication Type
February 2015
Wiegand, Andrew, Michelle Manno, Sengsouvanh (Sukey) Leshnick, Louisa Treskon, Christian Geckeler, Heather Lewis-Charp, Castle Sinicrope, Mika Clark, and Brandon Nicholson. 2015. Adapting to Local Context. New York: MDRC.