Youth Build/LAYC Respond to Community Questions

Youth Build and Latin American Youth Center are scheduled to occupy the J. F. Cook Building. This project has been met with opposition from the neighborhood. During a community meeting, the project and management team from Youth Build Charter School and Latin American Center responded to community concerns; a transcript of those answers was submitted to BACA.

Youth Build Charter School
J. F. Cook School Redevelopment

During a community meeting that took place at Perry School Community Center on Tuesday, June 15, 2010, members of Latin American Youth Center Youth Build Charter School provided an overview of the project and responded to community questions and concerns.

Overview of Project:

Youth Build Charter School will occupy the J.F. Cooke School building. Renovations of the building will begin the fall of 2010 and operational for the beginning of the 2011 school year. The school provides a GED and vocational program to young adult students. Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) will lease the upper floor of the building to provide housing to approximately 50 young working adults.

Community Questions/Concerns

1. What is the difference between Youth Build and LAYC? We had not heard of Youth Build until the presentation at the Bates Area Civic Association meeting in October 2009.

 YouthBuild Public Charter School is an independent public charter school that grew out of a program at the LAYC.  It operated as a program within LAYC for 10 years, and provided a GED program, vocational construction training and community service opportunities for youth ages 16-24.  It has operated as a charter school for the past 5 years.  YBPCS and LAYC continue to work closely, though, to support each other’s respective mission and objectives.

2. We are concerned that you are bringing troubled kids with police records – kids that are already vulnerable – and putting them into a bad environment.

 Both YBPCS and LAYC have long, successful track records working with youth and young adults who have faced challenges.  Starting with the application process, YBPCS and LAYC ensure that the students who enroll are ready to make positive changes in their lives.  This means that, just by virtue of attending the school, the students have already decided to reject negative activities/behaviors, and to transform their lives.  Once enrolled, students have access to a full range of programs, offered by us and a number of partner organizations, to address the challenges they have faced and to teach them needed life skills.  Each student is also obligated to attend school and maintain employment while enrolled.  Further, we provide 24 hour staffing and security for our sites, and will do so on the Cook School site as well.

YBPCS and LAYC also have significant experience operating programs in environments/neighborhoods that present their own set of challenges.  For example, our location in Columbia Heights faces some of the same challenges noted in The Cook School neighborhood.  We have been very successful in ensuring that students attend school and separate themselves from negative elements in the community.  Further, we are proactive and work hard to establish positive relationships with neighboring businesses, residents, and other nonprofits so that we may collaborate on bettering the community.  We communicate these sentiments to the students so that they understand our expectation of them – that they demonstrate positive behavior in the community, residential and commercial.  These efforts have been rewarding in a number of ways.  For example, we worked to establish a good relationship with the owner of a 7-Eleven convenience store in Columbia Heights.  As a result of that relationship-building, the store hired one of our students at the end of the last school year.

3. How are you going to control the people living there and ensure that they are not loitering and becoming a nuisance to the neighborhood? Once they are 18, they are adults and you can’t control them.

 Residents of housing on The Cook School project, as with all of our properties, will be required as part of their lease to comply with an extensive set of “house rules” that will identify unacceptable behaviors, such as loitering.  Moreover, we’ve found on our other projects that we offer enough positive opportunities to keep students and residents sufficiently engaged.

4. Some of these kids have drug problems and there are all kinds of drugs being sold around the corner from the school. How are you going to stop that?

 Before enrollment students commit to being drug free for the entire school year.  They are tested during each phase of the application process, and their admission depends on negative tests.  We conduct random testing each month during the school year to promote compliance with our drug policy.  Students are provided with substance abuse counseling and we stress a drug-free lifestyle as a cornerstone of transformation.  Students are coached on how to avoid adopting or returning to bad habits, even in the face of temptations.  We help the students to be self-motivated to change.

LAYC has a long-history of successfully working with youth on drug prevention efforts.  Students who test positive during the school year are subject to expulsion.  Within the last three school years we have had only three students relapse during the school year, and even those three tested negative within 30 days of a positive test.

5. You said that you have a waiting list for this school. What are you going to do to get some of the kids in our neighborhood in your charter school? It’s not fair that kids who live here have to be on the outside looking in and just let you bring people from outside the neighborhood to live here and go to school here.

 YBPCS actually does not have a waiting list.  We have had significant demand for our programs, however, which lead us to this important opportunity to expand.  YBPCS is extremely interested in serving youth from the immediate community, as well as youth from all of Ward 5.  We will work with the community to ensure that the recruitment & enrollment process is widely promoted throughout the community.

Currently YBPCS and LAYC serve youth from every ward of the District of Columbia.  At our current site in Ward 1, we pull about 40% of our students from Ward 1; we would generally expect the same ratio at this site, and therefore would expect to pull at least 40% of The Cook School’s students from Ward 5.

6. Where are 150 students, their teachers and 50 people living there going to park?

 We have sized the parking on-site to meet the needs of our residents and staff.  This site is particularly a great fit due to its proximity to public transportation (metro & buses).  This is consistent with our other sites, where the vast majority of the residents and students take public transportation.  Even though we have included on-site parking, we expect the majority of this site’s residents and students to also take public transportation, as most do not own cars.  We have sized the on-site parking to meet an expected moderate level of demand.  We are also including bikes racks and storage.

7. How is this project going to bring anything positive to our community that is overwhelmed with social programs?

 The Cook School is a unique project, and not comparable to some of the other services currently in the community (methadone, food services, etc.).  YBPCS and LAYC are strong neighborhood assets in their current communities, and we intend to be strong collaborators in this community as well.  We intend to provide opportunities, resources and space to the existing community, in addition to our own students and residents.

The LAYC has a forty year track record in the District of Columbia.  It has served as a positive community resource in every site where it is located.  The Center is known for “best in class” programs and activities that engage all community members in a very positive way.

8. We are worried that now there will be Latino and Black Gangs in the neighborhood and we can have problems and conflicts.

 LAYC is actively involved in gang prevention and mitigation work in Ward 1. We have close working relationships with the police, PSAs and other community partners working to keep our young people and communities safe.  We are prepared to help the community address this problem should it arise, in addition to our ongoing work with our own students and residents to engage them in positive versus negative activities.

In addition, LAYC is one of the few youth development organizations in the District of Columbia who has a track record of working with diverse youth populations while building bridges between Latino and African-American youth.  Historically, LAYC has had few, if any, conflicts between Latino and African American youth and families participating in our programs. 

9. How is the community going to benefit from this building? Will the residents have access to meeting space?

 YBPCS and LAYC are redeveloping a vacant building in the neighborhood, turning it into an attractive, environmentally-friendly structure that will serve as a resource for the community as well as our own students and residents.  Neighborhood residents will have access to the meeting spaces in the building.

10. Why did you not inform the community until after you were awarded the RFP?

 YBPCS and LAYC responded to a request for offers released by the DC Deputy Mayor for Education.  In the application, YBPCS/LAYC responded to the community needs and requests for the building that were stated in the DC DME’s request for offers.  As soon as the building was awarded , YBPCS/LAYC staff reached out to the community and the ANC to gain their participation in the development process from that point on.

 For additional questions/comments, please contact:

6 thoughts on “Youth Build/LAYC Respond to Community Questions

  1. I read this posting with interest noting that the said meeting by LAYC was held at Perry School. Was this meeting advertised in our community? To my knowledge, Perry School is located in Ward 6, not Ward 5 where BACA is located. Is LAYC attempting to get support from Ward 6 residents for locating their project in Ward 5, namely in the BACA, Hanover areas? Are folks in Ward 6 aware that the civic associations and the ANC 5C have submitted resolutions to the DC Council opposing the project’s location in our neighborhood? Is that why the meeting was held at Perry School and members of the community not invited or advised of this gathering? In my opinion it demonstrates how disingenuous the LAYC is and how much we, the residents of this community, should believe what they say.

    Mary Ann Wilmer

  2. Mary Ann – I am one of the consultants working with YBPCS and LAYC on the Cook School project, and I understand and appreciate your concern. The original meeting took place at the Perry School only because they graciously offered to host the meeting. YBPCS, LAYC and The Perry School all work on youth development issues, and have some ties in that respect. Advertisement for the meeting, though, was targeted to Ward 5 residents, and particularly the residents in the Cook School neighborhood.

    The project will be briefly discussed at this evening’s BACA meeting, and we will be hosting our own community meeting at the site (pray for no rain!) next Wednesday, October 13th, at 6 pm.

    I hope that you will come out and continue to engage, and encourage your neighbors to as well, so that we can continue the dialogue about how to alleviate some of the concerns you are expressing.

    By all means, post back here, but you can also email at

  3. Perry Center had no idea about the issues with the neighborhood. They just offer community space for meetings. The executive director also gave LAYC the names of Board members in the community to contact at their request and I know I have never been contacted.

    My biggest concern about this project is the concentrated housing of 40/50 youth. Group houses can be successful because of their small community like size. This is nothing like a group house and has never been proven to be effective. I hate to see our neighborhood used as a testing ground for an approach in any other housing situation has proven to be a failure.

  4. 10/4/2010

    I totally agree with Mary Ann Wilmer. The community have made their position very clear to the CIty that we do not want LAYC and Youth Build Program in our community. This being the case our wishes as a community were disregarded giving rise to LAYC and Youth Build Progam. This community must no longer sit back and allow everything that is not wanted elsewhere to be dumped on us. Children in our community who were attending Cook, Jr, were displaced. Why is the school now being made available for this group for whom many of the students have had runnings with the law? I think it is a terrible idea and Ward 6 residents should not be involved in what happens here in Ward 5. Are we allowed to make decisions as to what happens in Ward 6? This community has to come together and take this matter to the next level. I remain on record as to my strong opposition and they need to find somwhere else where they are welcome. We have more than our fair share of social agencies and drug markets here.

  5. it is true that LAYC’s plan is very different from a group home, which in the past were typically set up either for people with physical, mental or developmental disabilities, or for younger kids who were no longer with their parents but not old enough to be independent. LAYC housing is for young working adults, aged 18 – 24. The plan for the Cook School is shared apartments, which isn’t, by any means, a new concept, neither in the subsidized nor the private housing market. In addition to targeting young adults who are working and/or in school to reside in the housing, the building will also be staffed 24 hours a day.
    Because we are housing young working adults in a setting where there is strong support and programming, I think it is a little unfair to compare it to a “drug market.” In order for us to reach any workable solutions, I think it is important for us all to remain factual and transparent in our deliberation. That being said, I should reiterate that the previous meeting was held at the Perry School because they offered space.

  6. Angie,

    I am very much aware of the purpose of Perry School and its contributions to the surrounding community as I was an original member of the Perry School Board. My community activism includes membership on the North Capitol Neighborhood Development Corporation, and former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner. My knowledge of this community is intimate and over a very long period of time.

    For your information, invitations to the LAYC meeting on the JF Cook School proposed project were distributed to a selected group persons for this meeting—had they been given to residents of the JF Cook School area, as you claim, I would have received one…I reside in the unit block of Bates Street. One street over from J.F. Cook School.

    I was made aware of the meeting in a conversation with a neighbor who was invited to the meeting and who asked if I would be attending in order that we might go together. Needless to say, I believe that I did not receive an invitation because the LAYC leadership is very much aware of opposing voices, like mine, and they were not willing to have the likes of me, or others like me, to be present at THAT meeting to continue our protestations. Had they been interested in reaching persons in the broader community they would have done so electronically, as you are doing, currrently, and as they have done by posting the results of the meeting now, in October, when the meeting occured in June. It is my belief that LAYC is NOW attempting to cover their tracks in order that they can report to the Mayor and Council that they have reached out to the community to discuss their proposed project and to seek the community’s feedback. Again, how DISINGENUOUS!!!

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