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Free fair celebrates 40 years of youth empowerment in East Harlem

Youth Action YouthBuild is celebrating its 40th anniversary

Youth Action YouthBuild is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a free festival at Thomas Jefferson Park in East Harlem on Friday.  Photo Credit: Youth Action Programs and Homes, Inc.

As New York City readies to celebrate the nation's independence, one East Harlem group is celebrating the independence it has brought to thousands of young men and women.

Youth Action YouthBuild, an organization that helps young adults with education, workforce development and community resources, is marking its 40th anniversary with a free neighborhood fair called Youth Action CommUNITY Day on Friday that will be open to all.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thomas Jefferson Park will be filled with fun activities like basketball competitions, a bouncy house for kids, a softball tournament, music from DJ Smoove and hot dogs for all — run by YouthBuild volunteers.

The festival, which is supported by the Hispanic Federation and the Communities of Color Stabilization Fund, will also act as a resource fair for East Harlem's youth featuring the organization's partners, such as the Boys Club of East Harlem, Union Settlement, Fidelis, Silicon Harlem, Strive New York and others.

"This is new and interesting for us — it's our first attempt, in a while, to create an initiative that brings us back to our roots," said Robert T. Taylor, Youth Action YouthBuild's executive director. "We are doing this to signify our 40th year and how we'd like to go forward by celebrating what is good about our community, bringing East Harlem families together, and seeing young people taking the lead in bringing these events to the community. It sets the tone for the next 40 years."

The event has also invited local police officers and firefighters to join in the fun in an effort to build better relationships between East Harlem's youth and law enforcement, Taylor said.

"We want to bring forth a positive dialogue," he said. "This is tied into the work we are doing recently — the East Harlem Community Youth Forum — which invites housing residents to get together to think through some issues, including decreasing youth violence." 

Launched in 1979, Youth Action YouthBuild has helped thousands of young men and women start their careers, housed about 120 low-income families and facilitated small businesses in 17 commercial spaces.

Those who have gone through its programming have earned their high school certificates, learned construction, culinary and building operation skills from professionals, placed at paid internships and connected to jobs in their fields, Taylor said.

In fact, 74 percent of its enrollees have gotten their high school education or job credentials, 54 percent have gone on to higher education or the workforce, and 74 percent have had a job for at least six months, according to its website.

"YouthBuild has been a resource that really believes in the power of young people and that they have transformative powers for positive community development," Taylor said. "They are often the ones who are overlooked and painted in a negative light, but they are actually a real resource that would ignite positive change if given the opportunity to do so."

If you go: The festival at Thomas Jefferson Park (2180 First Ave.) is free and runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a softball game starting around 10 a.m. Anyone can join in.

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