High school student Luis Alonso has never had it easy. In foster care for most of his adolescence, he’s considered buildOn his family and support group since joining as a freshman. At a recent event, he shared his inspiring story with our attendees, and we’ve reprinted it below.
Did you know that only 13% of youth placed in foster care actually make it to college?
My name is Luis Alonso and I spent the majority of my adolescence in the foster care system. I was placed in the system because some very difficult family issues, and then my dad died before I reached high school. The odds were stacked against me. Growing up I had no convictions to follow, no ideal to pursue, no purpose in my life. I was a lost soul in the woods of darkness. Then my freshman year at the Bronx Center for Science and Math High School, I found buildOn.
At my high school we needed to earn community service hours to graduate high school and I heard that buildOn could help you get those service hours. So, I went to my first buildOn meeting and I did my first service activity the following Saturday. That year I contributed over 70 hours of service to my community.
Then, my sophomore year, life became difficult. My relationship with my foster parent was deteriorating. She would refuse to give me money for transportation to and from community service events. She lied to me frequently. She sent me to a mental ward even though I had no mental illness, and she would never give me recognition for my accomplishments. Of course she would refuse to allow me to make a difference in the lives of other people.
My program coordinator, Missy, was questioning why I no longer participated in service activities – for three straight months I did not attend a single project. But during that time, my perception of buildOn, community service, and myself changed drastically. Originally, I only participated in events to accumulate the hours I needed to graduate.
I did not fully understand the social impact I had on my community. I now realized that community service is something greater then I had ever imagined, and that buildOn’s goal of promoting volunteerism to children like me was nothing short of honorable, noble, and just. With this inspiration, my brother and I advocated to leave our foster home and be placed in a new one.
After moving to a new foster home, I was more committed to service than ever before. I became president of the buildOn program at my school and engaged in every service activity I could. One of the most memorable service projects I’ve done was the Father-Hearts Ministry food pantry and soup kitchen. I had prior experience with soup kitchens myself, while living with my father, but I never expected to be in the other side – serving food to people who were once in my predicament. The sheer amount of people who came also gave me insight in the real problem of poverty, as well as what it meant to be grateful. I had a fantastic time serving some of the 400 people that arrived at the Ministry that day, and will never forget my experience there.
I also travelled to Nicaragua, my first time out of the country, and helped build a school in El Portal. The village became a second home for me. I even helped my school’s program to raise more than $80,000 for 16 of my fellow students to travel to Mali, West Africa and build a school.
I would not be the person I am without buildOn. It is an understatement to say that buildOn was a pivotal part of my life. They helped to mold my character and find the right path for the future I am going to make. Currently I am a freshman at University of Rochester and am studying to be a teacher, a decision that was cemented by my experience in Nicaragua. Now, I know that whatever comes across my path, I will overcome because that is who I am. That is what buildOn helped me to be. Thank you.