In 2010, buildOn developed a leadership workshop — “Voices of buildOn” — for students with unique challenges and memorable stories. These youth, picked by on-site staff members from all 29 of buildOn’s Chicago youth in service after school programs, assembled an intensive four hour training that focused on public speaking and communication skills. And, towards the end of the session, they unleashed their creative side, expressing buildOn’s significance to them through mediums such as dance, music and theater.
One year later, a mostly new selection of program participants are convening for another four hours of inspiration. “Last year we were really blown away by how excited the students were to share their stories,” says program coordinator Abbe Ewell. “They felt very connected to buildOn at the end of it.”
She also noted that this is currently the only buildOn event that brings together youth from all corners of Chicago, giving many attendees a stronger sense of the program’s community and the various forms of service that their peers are engaged in. Some students participating in “Voices” have built schools during international treks, where others have done outstanding work in their local communities.
At “Voices of buildOn,” shared values and program experiences become a meeting ground where youth from different neighborhoods and backgrounds can become more confident discussing how buildOn empowers them. Working together, students hone a 30 second “elevator speech” about why they like buildOn, and also explore how the program has changed their lives through an assignment in one of four categories: theater, poetry/music, visual arts, or creative movement. The resulting poems, videos, songs, and dances are then presented to the entire workshop in a talent show at the end of the afternoon.
“Last year some students made a buildOn commercial that was anti-laziness,” Ewell remembers fondly. “The speaker ‘jumped out’ of the TV, ‘grabbed students’ and compelled them to get involved with their communities.”
Ewell is looking forward to exploring the full potential of the workshop on Saturday, February 19th, and to helping train a new group of ambassadors for buildOn. She comments that even the process of selecting participants to “Voices” has had an empowering effect. “The students are taking this opportunity very seriously,” she says. “They feel special that they’ve been selected to participate in this.”