Christian’s Story: “Service Gives Me Hope”

On May 4th, 2017, buildOn students and Boston business and community leaders came together at the buildOn Boston Dinner to celebrate buildOn’s work to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education in Boston and across the globe. GE Chief Financial Officer Jeff Bornstein spoke about his experience serving with buildOn Boston students from the Community Academy of Science and Health (CASH) as part of buildOn’s 36 Hours program before introducing buildOn student Christian Mendez. Christian shared this personal story about how service has impacted his life and what it meant to have Jeff and other GE team members visit his school for 36 Hours.

I want to start off by saying thank you to Jeff and to everyone from GE who came to CASH for 36 Hours. It really meant a lot to me and to all of the other students to be able to show you our school and our neighborhood.

When I was younger, I was so trapped in my own neighborhood that I forgot there were other things in the world.

Growing up as a kid in the city, I felt like I was always losing people, and I really didn’t care if I lived or died. I would get so depressed about my life that I would tell myself, “Whatever happens, happens.”

Growing up at my dad’s house in Roxbury, I knew people from my neighborhood who were killed. I lost cousins to gun violence. My friend Kyle was shot and killed when he was only 16. He was in a room with some friends, and they were playing with a gun and it went off. And just over a week ago, another one of my friends, someone I had known since second grade, was shot to death. When he was killed, it took a part of childhood away. Now, I can’t reminisce about growing up with him or all the memories we had because he’s gone. It’s like an entire chapter has been torn out of my life.

Growing up as a kid in the city, I felt like I was always losing people, and I really didn’t care if I lived or died. I would get so depressed about my life that I would tell myself, “Whatever happens, happens.”

One thing that would cheer me up when I was sad was helping people. I used to do random acts of kindness whenever I could. I remember once that I gave a homeless person $11 and that made me feel really happy. But by the time I was in high school, I didn’t have a regular way to help out.

One day when I was in 10th grade at CASH, I got kicked out of class and was walking through the hallways when Aled, the buildOn staff at school, asked me if I wanted to volunteer with buildOn to go to Boston Rescue Mission. I figured why not. Now, I like to say that it was an accident that I got involved with buildOn, but I’ve been involved ever since.

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Since becoming involved in buildOn, Christian has served more than 120 hours to better his Boston community.

Serving at Boston Rescue Mission was really touching to me on a personal level. Boston Rescue is a homeless shelter for people recovering from drug and alcohol addictions. Throughout my life, I saw my mom and other people in my family struggle with drug addictions. So by going to Boston Rescue, by cooking food and serving it to the people there, by sitting down and just being someone that they could talk to, it made me feel like I was helping to save someone else’s mother or father.

I met people at Boston Rescue who were from my own hood. I knew right then that I had to change my life around because I was on the wrong track.

When I started volunteering with buildOn, it showed me I could affect so many people’s lives in so many ways. Life is bigger than just me. It makes my day to serve other people. Helping other people makes me feel alive.

After that moment, I stopped hanging around with the people that I had been. I stopped going to my Dad’s house in the hood cause if I hung with the dudes in the hood, I was going to end up either in jail or homeless or dead. I don’t want that. I don’t want my life to be, “Oh, Christian was a good kid, but he died.” I don’t want to get killed on the street corner and people to leave teddy bears and flowers for me. That’s not going to be the end of my story.

When I started volunteering with buildOn, it showed me I could affect so many people’s lives in so many ways. Life is bigger than just me. It makes my day to serve other people. Helping other people makes me feel alive. This is what God put me on this earth for—to help other people. Service gives me hope and makes me appreciate things more in life. Without this, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

When Jeff and the rest of the team from GE came to CASH, it really meant a lot to me, it showed me that they cared. Jeff didn’t just visit the school and stand in a corner with all the people from GE. Instead, he got to know me, and everyone from GE got to know my classmates. He asked me what my tattoos mean.

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GE CFO Jeff Bornstein and Christian work on a ‘secret handshake’ during GE’s recent 36 Hours immersion with buildOn as CASH.

I showed him the tattoo on my left arm that says Forever Ky. I explained it was for Kyle and that Kyle didn’t get to graduate high school. He didn’t get to live his real life, but he will forever live through me. That’s why it says Forever Ky.

And I showed Jeff the tattoo on my right arm that says Blessed. I got that one because I’m 18 years old, two years older than Kyle was when he was killed. I’m blessed to see another day. I’m blessed to have the opportunities I have. I’m blessed to be able to serve my community.

A kid like me, with my past and based on where I am from, life tells kids like me that we can get either gang bang, go to jail, or end up with struggling with a dead end job. But when I met Jeff and learned about all that he has done with his life, I felt that I could do great things, too.

Jeff listened to me, and it showed me that people like him don’t forget about kids from the city. I could tell that Jeff was genuine, that everything was coming from the heart. I couldn’t believe that they ate our school lunch with us. When Jeff saw the food, he was like, “Wow. What is this? You guys eat this?” I know that sounds funny, but it showed me that he cared.

There aren’t many people who ask me about my day or come to my school to see the food that we’re eating. A lot of kids from the hood, we come to think that we have to be rude to others or that we can’t show emotion. Jeff, by you coming and listening to me, it opened up a side of me that I don’t really show other people. That felt good, expressing my emotions, and telling you about my life and my struggles. I want to tell you that it gave me hope.

A kid like me, with my past and based on where I am from, life tells kids like me that we can get either gang bang, go to jail, or end up with struggling with a dead end job. But when I met Jeff and learned about all that he has done with his life, I felt that I could do great things, too. It gave me hope.

Below: Christian and GE CFO Jeff Bornstein hug as Christian takes the stage to speak at the Boston Dinner.

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Posted May 18, 2017 in News, Stories by buildOn

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On May 4th, 2017, buildOn students and Boston business and community leaders came together at the buildOn Boston Dinner... http://www.buildon.org/2017/05/christians-story-service-gives-me-hope/

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