These buildOn Students Have Served More Than 400 Hours

A huge congratulations to these 16 students who have surpassed 400 hours of service with buildOn. By cooking meals for the homeless, spending quality time with seniors and mentoring young children, these dedicated students are changing their communities for the better. They have stayed late to volunteer after school, woken up early on Saturdays in order to serve and given the very best of themselves to transform their schools and communities. Together, they have devoted well over 7,500 hours to breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations!

Bryant La

11th Grade, Oakland High School, Bay Area

Although Bryant La can’t really remember why he first started going to buildOn, this Oakland High School junior has never stopped volunteering and being of service to his community. When asked to share what has inspired him to serve over 600 hours with buildOn, Bryant’s sense of humor shines through. “Bragging rights — just kidding,” Bryant says. “It’s because I genuinely enjoy making as much of a difference as I can in the world…and my lack of a social life probably doesn’t hurt.”

One thing that Bryant would like to see change is the lack of affordable housing in Oakland. He knows that this is a tough challenge to take on, but thinks that buildOn can make a difference. “Through buildOn we can build a better sense of community that can eventually lead to larger problems being solved,” Bryant says. He saw that sense of community being built when he attended the Bay Area buildOn Gala. The night of the Gala is one of his favorite buidOn memories. “It was exciting to see how many people were willing to donate to such a good cause,” Bryant remembers. “After the Gala, when we were all on the bus heading home and we were all sleeping on each other, it reminded me of the friendship and the camaraderie that can be built through buildOn.”

buildOn has helped Bryant prove that he is not a selfish or uncaring person. “buildOn gives me the opportunity to answer what Dr. King said was life’s most persistent and urgent question, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Bryant says. He also feels that buildOn has helped him to gain new skills. “buildOn has given me a plethora of new skills to add to my skill set including digging holes, putting tables back in specific ways, counting laps at a pool, lifting heaving objects great distances. Though, seriously, it has helped my punctuality…and witticisms.”

Chris La

11th Grade, Oakland High School, Bay Area

“buildOn has become a part of me and my life,” Chris La says. “It has given me all these new experiences and opportunities that have changed me for the better.” Chris joined buildOn as a freshman at Oakland High School. Now, as a junior, Chris has served over 600 hours in his community. “Doing service helps me build my character, gives me a unique type of comfort, and helps me redeem myself for all those years that I wasn’t truly involved in my community,” Chris says.

Chris cares deeply about helping others. And he wants more people to be involved in their communities. “I’m passionate about helping people in whatever way I can. Sometimes all a person needs is a little help,” Chris says. “I want people to realize the social responsibility that they have to the community they live in. buildOn is already doing this by connecting youth to service.” Like his brother Bryan, Chris was moved by attending the Bay Area Gala last year — the event showed him how big the buildOn community is. “It is comforting knowing that there are more people who are just as dedicated to service just as I am,” Chris explains.    

Chris wants people to know that tries his best and sometimes he fails, but he learns from his mistakes and uses them as opportunities for growth. He will be going on Trek for Knowledge in Nicaragua this Spring and is looking forward to seeing what he learns from Trek, as he already feels he gained a lot from his service experience. “buildOn has taught me how to become a leader in the things that I do,” Chris says. “How leading people doesn’t mean bossing people around, it involves communication, collaboration, and a team mindset.”  

Angela Ma

11th Grade, Oakland High School, Bay Area

Angela Ma first heard about buildOn when she was in sixth grade. At that time, she had an older sister at Oakland High School. When it came time for Angela to attend Oakland High, she joined buildOn right away at the recommendation of her sister. Now, as a junior, Angela would like to see more people out and serving. “I want to make my school and my community more invested in helping to make [Oakland] a better place,” Angela says. “buildOn can help because we are a movement that helps youth get more interested in what is going on in their community.”

Angela’s favorite service project is Friends of Sausal Creek because she gets to help the environment and make Dimond Park a cleaner and better place for the community to enjoy. “I actually enjoy being outside and helping my community and socializing with people from many different backgrounds…I also enjoy getting buff.” Angela was able to put her muscles to work when she traveled to Malawi during the summer of 2016 to help build a school as part of Trek for Knowledge. She says that she would love to go on Trek again if she ever has the opportunity.

buildOn has helped shape Angela into the person she is today. “What’s important is that sometimes I may seem super outgoing or friendly, but that it took a lot to get there as a person and buildOn helped with that,” Angela says. Reflecting back on over 400 hours of service, Angela would use one word to describe buildOn at Oakland High School. “I want people to know that we are a family,” Angela says. “buildOn is a whole new family that I have created over the course of the years that I have been in the program.”

Nadia Juarez

11th Grade, Central High School, Bridgeport

Nadia Juarez first started attending buildOn the summer of her freshman year. Since joining buildOn, Nadia has become more open, thankful and appreciative. “buildOn means having a voice — it gives you a voice in helping others, helping yourself and realizing what life has to offer,” Nadia says. She describes buildOn at Central High School as a place that brings youth together. “There are ways for you to help, ways for you to do things you have never done before.”

Nadia is passionate about keeping her Bridgeport community clean. She says that this doesn’t just it help the environment, but that it also shows respect for the community. Nadia feels very strongly about education, too. “I am also really passionate about education because where my dad was born in Guatemala, he didn’t have [access] to an education. He worked on a farm. I feel like my destiny then was to receive an education and be smart and influential.”

Nadia’s favorite service project is serving meals at the Thomas Merton Center, a community resource in Bridgeport for people in need. “I like meeting new people through buildOn. Through buildOn I believe that I have become a more social person, before I never liked to talk, but now I am more outgoing and much less shy.” Nadia says. “I also like influencing people’s lives, making them feel positivity and giving them a sense that people are not always there to hurt you or judge. There are good people out there that can make your life better.”

Alondra Martinez

11th Grade, Curie Metropolitan High School, Chicago

Alondra Martinez, a 16-year-old junior from Chicago, has been a part of buildOn at Curie Metro High School since her freshman year. Alondra is passionate about women’s rights and equality for all people. Even though her favorite way to serve is by cooking meals at homeless shelters in Chicago, Alondra says that no single thing has inspired her to serve over 400 hours with buildOn. “Personally, I just love doing service,” Alondra says. “Service gives you a chance to have a voice and try and help people’s situations and not just read and learn about them in school.”

Alondra was nervous about high school when she first started at Curie, but she has since found a home in buildOn. She credits buildOn with giving her the strength to communicate with more people in her school and in her community. It’s helped her break out of her shell and meet students from other schools. “buildOn is not just an organization like most people would think,” Alondra says. “buildOn is a place that you can call home. For me the definition of home isn’t a place that has a roof and four walls. It’s a place where you feel comfortable.”

But Alondra says that it isn’t just her, all students at Curie feel comfortable at
buildOn because the program is accepting of everyone. “We will accept you with open arms. It doesn’t matter what you believe, who you are or what your interests are,” Alondra says.

Terey Tellez

11th Grade, Schurz High School, Chicago

By serving at homeless shelters in Chicago and by going on Trek to Nicaragua in the spring of 2016, Terey Tellez, a junior at Schurz High School, has discovered that he is passionate about learning new things, meeting new people and traveling. “buildOn has helped me find a passion or a purpose in my life. Before I wasn’t interested in anything outside of videogames or drawing,” Terey says. “But buildOn has helped me to see that I like to meet new people and I like to travel. It helped me to see what i want to do with my life — that I want to see new places and meet new people and explore the world.”

Terey’s favorite service project is Cornerstone, a shelter for people experiencing homelessness in Chicago. By serving at Cornerstone, Terey says that he has learned more about homelessness and made personal connections with the people there by listening to their stories. But despite his strong connection to Cornerstone, Terey’s favorite buildOn memory comes from his Trek to Nicaragua. “At the very end of the Trek, we all held hands with the people from the community and we sang ‘Stand By Me’ by Bruno Mars. My host father started to cry, and so did my host mom. It was a really cool, emotional moment. They told us afterwards that they would never forget us,” Terey says.

Terey would like to see more students get involved with service. He feels that buildOn empowers students like him to do great things. “To me, buildOn is something different. It’s a chance to do something greater than the person that you are. Me, by myself, I’m just Terey. But with buildOn I’m someone who can bring joy to a homeless person or go build a school in another country,” Terey says. “It’s all about the chance to do something greater. Outside of buildOn, we are always supposed to think about us — about our future, our family — but it’s good to think about other people from time to time.”

Kayla Dobbins

11th Grade, Osborn College Preparatory Academy, Detroit

Kayla Dobbins is a junior at Osborn College Preparatory Academy in Detroit. She has been a part of buildOn since her freshman year and continues to do service to make a difference at her school and in her community. “I like helping people, and on top of that, buildOn is fun,” Kayla says. “It’s fun when you’re in the buildOn room. We treat each other like family.”

Kayla describes herself as a nice person with a big heart. Through buildOn, she has served at home in Detroit and abroad. Kayla traveled to Malawi in 2015 to help break ground on a primary school. She describes this Trek to Malawi as one her favorite buidOn memories. But despite her travels, Kayla’s favorite service project is in Detroit. “The walk for autism was my favorite service project, because I was able to interact with kids and put a smile on their faces,” Kayla says.

buildOn has inspired Kayla to think not just about herself and to help others in her community. She also credits the buildOn program staff at Osborn with helping her overcome being shy. And she thinks that more students at her school should join buildOn. “It’s fun and you don’t have to be shy,” Kayla says. “You should come to the buildOn room and actually help. You would be surprised!”

Jayson Garay

12th Grade, Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice,
New York City

Jayson Garay joined buildOn as a sophomore at the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice (BLGJ). In the two years since attending his first project, Jayson has amassed nearly 600 hours of service with buildOn, traveled to Nicaragua in 2016 as part of Trek for Knowledge and become the buildOn Chief of Global Impact at BLGJ. “Giving back is just something people need to do,” Jayson says. “A lot of people are more about themselves nowadays but giving back to the less fortunate is what it’s all about.”

Jayson’s favorite service projects are at senior centers, as he knows that seniors don’t always see family members frequently and that visits from students like him can make seniors happy. “Seeing the smile of the seniors makes it my favorite project,” says Jayson, adding that he would like to see more students try community service. Jayson wants to change the perception that community service is boring. “I think people at my school should know that giving back is the best feeling in the world. Putting a smile on someone’s face means everything. You do it both for yourself and someone else.”

buildOn has helped Jayson go out of his comfort zone. He credits his experiences at service projects and on Trek for making him more confident and less shy. buildOn has also shown Jayson the power that people have to make a positive impact on the world. “You may think it’s just community service, but it’s a whole other thing once you’re in it,” Jayson says. buildOn has shown Jayson that though we all have different paths and turns in life, we’re all going the same direction. “I think my passion would be to know I’m not alone and that we’re all in this together. We can work together and conquer anything.”

Stephanie Garcia

12th Grade, Bronx Leadership Academy, New York City

“buildOn is an opportunity to view your community in a different way and help them out,” says Stephanie Garcia, a buildOn student at the Bronx Leadership Academy. “It is also a chance to meet new people, and make new friends. buildOn inspires you to do better, and gives you a chance to take advantage of resources that you never knew you had.” Stephanie first joined buildOn as a freshman in the fall of 2013. Now, as a senior, she has served well over 500 hours and has the most buildOn service hours of any student at her high school.

Stephanie has a strong love of animals and nature. She went on Trek for Knowledge to Nicaragua during the summer of 2014. She remembers that trip fondly. “That was the first time I left the country, traveled without my family and felt really out of my element. But everyone in Nicaragua was friendly and welcoming,” says Stephanie. In the Bronx, she would like to see more people have respect for the environment. “The Bronx can be dirty, so getting more community members involved in buildOn service events — park cleanups, gardening, etc. — will hopefully shed light on the problem, and help raise awareness and respect for the area we live in,” Stephanie says.

Stephanie has grown and gained new skills as a result of her time serving with buildOn. “buildOn helped me become the person I am today. I gained a better understanding of responsibilities and how to hold myself accountable. I learned how to navigate through my own city! Since joining buildOn, my parents have also trusted me more to take care of myself and to be more independent,” Stephanie says. “When I entered as a freshman, I was extremely shy and introverted. Since joining buildOn, I have become more vocal and outgoing. Because of this, [the buildOn staff at my school] say that I have become a leader in the school.”

Lisangel Herra

12th Grade, Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice,
New York City

“I really enjoy the feeling I get when I help people and put a smile on their face. People go through things we don’t even know about and by being there for them, it gives me a heartwarming feeling,” says Lisangel Herra, a senior at BLGJ. Lisangel’s first experience with buildOn was in 9th grade when buildOn visited her classroom with in-class service projects. She officially began attending service projects outside of the classroom in 10th grade. Since then, Lisangel has become the President of the BLGJ buildOn Youth Leadership Board (YLB). As President of the buildOn YLB, Lisangel wants people to know that buildOn is a safe place for students to share their ideas and make an impact in their community.

Lisangel’s experience as YLB President has helped her to become a more confident public speaker. “I don’t let my shyness interfere with what I’m trying to accomplish. I am always determined and ambitious,” Lisangel says. She is passionate about computer science, math and buildOn. She loves learning how to code and hopes to continue coding in college next year. In August of 2016, Lisangel traveled to Nicaragua on Trek for Knowledge. “I loved the ability to meet new people,” Lisangel says. “I also got to step out of my comfort zone and made relationships with people in one week who still mean a lot to me. I want to go back!”

Lisangel would like to see more people come together to make change. “I wish more people would try to change things they feel passionate about. With buildOn we create our own little family — I want to bring more people into it,” says Lisangel. Looking back on her time in buildOn, there is a lot to be proud of. “It’s been a fun three and a half years, and I loved getting to know everyone. And I love to see my friends around me get involved in making a change. If we all come together, we can truly make a change for our community.”

Samantha Minaya

11th Grade, Validus Preparatory Academy, New York City

Samantha Minaya joined buildOn her freshman year Validus because she wanted to try something new and push herself out of her comfort zone. Looking back on who she was as a freshman, Samantha believes that buildOn has helped shape her into the person that she is today. “Freshmen year I was very shy. Since going to buildOn for three years, it has helped me come out of my shell and showed me that talking and putting myself out there isn’t that bad,” Samantha says. “I am passionate about coming out to service and going to new projects. I love that new opportunities are always being offered to me through buildOn.”

Samantha’s favorite service project is Momentum Soup Kitchen. “I like Momentum because is has changed me. I have broken out of my shell by being around those we serve there. I love that my being there and serving makes people’s days better,” Samantha explains, adding that her favorite aspect of Momentum is being able to talk with and get to know the people she is serving. “They always make me feel good by telling me they appreciate me,” Samantha says.

Even as a junior with more than 400 hours of service, Samantha feels that buildOn still pushes her out of her comfort zone. “Depending on the service project, there is usually something different and exciting to do which puts me in a new situation. This truly is helping me develop more character,” Samantha says. On top of continuing to grow as an individual, Samantha has been motivated to serve because of the differences that she has been able to make through volunteering. “What inspires me is knowing that I am making an impact on my community,” Samantha says. “For me, buildOn means knowing that the big and little things we do will make other people’s lives better.”

Markia Neufville

11th Grade, Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice,
New York City

When Markia Neufville joined buildOn as a freshman in the fall of 2014, her goal was to serve 100 hours with buildOn. “Once I reached 100 service hours, I said, ‘Why stop when you are helping so many people?’” Marikia explains. Since that moment, she’s never looked back. Now, as a junior, Markia has served well over 500 hours, and she would like to see more students get involved with buildOn. “Students see people struggling, but don’t do anything. Going to buildOn, it gives you the chance to improve the lives of others,” Markia says.

Food Bank NYC in Harlem is Markia’s favorite service project. “It’s heartwarming and impactful to help people in need. I love seeing their smiles,” Markia says, adding that she enjoys interacting with community members at the food bank. “Clients come with their shopping carts and are assigned numbers. You can see your impact right away.” She sees her interactions at the food bank and her time at buildOn not only as way to help her community but also as a way to gain new skills. “I struggled with public speaking. Through buildOn, I have been able to speak more freely and clearly. I am more social and have more friends. I am less afraid and nervous. I can speak in front of people and express my ideas.”

Markia wants people to know that buildOn at BLGJ is so much more than just an after school program. “It’s not just a community service program. It is a family. Don’t think of it as just service. It’s a place where you are forever a part of,” Markia says. Markia is serving as the buildOn Secretary at BLGJ this year. She has decided to take on more leadership after seeing the power service has on her community. “buildOn is being the change I want to see in my community. It’s different for me because through service, I contribute to change. It made me realize I can make a difference in the lives of the people around me.”

Jessy Polanco

11th Grade, Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice,
New York City

Jessy Polanco has been driven to serve more than 400 hours with buildOn by setting goals for herself. “I have a goal each year,” Jessy says. “I was inspired to keep getting service hours and have the highest service hours in my grade.” Balancing service with her studies and track and basketball, Jessy has made time to serve at home in New York City and on Trek in Nicaragua. Her favorite service project is Food Bank NYC because of the interactions she has with community members. “I love seeing them smile. I feel so special and contribute to changing their lives,” Jessy says.

Jessy wants more students at BLGJ to join buildOn. “I would like to change young people’s view about buildOn,” Jessy says. “buildOn is an opportunity to make a change. Teenagers can make a positive impact and through buildOn, we can show it to others.” Jessy also knows that buildOn is able to change students’ perspectives on their own communities and on their own capabilities as change makers. “buildOn can change how you view your community. I never wanted to talk to senior citizens. I now like spending time with them, and it’s fun to play games with them.”

Besides helping others through service, Jessy is passionate about dancing and sports. “It helps me with stress. I can help others through dance and sports,” Jessy explains. “I like helping kids learn to dance and I feel proud to see them perform.” Jessy is open to new experiences and willing to step out of her comfort zone. She credits her Trek to Nicaragua in February 2016 with having a deep impact on her. “It changed me as a person. I am more mature and open-minded,” Jessy says. “While I was on Trek, I learned to be independent and unafraid to be alone. buildOn taught me to be open to change.”

Marc Rivera

12th Grade, Validus Preparatory Academy, New York City

Marc Rivera first joined buildOn as a freshman after hearing about it from his sister. Now, as a senior, he is able to look back and see how he has changed. “Over my four years, I can honestly say that buildOn has helped me grow,” Marc says. One of Marc’s areas of growth has been in his public speaking skills. After going on Trek to Haiti in August 2016, Marc presented his experience to students at Validus. “I used to be terrified of public speaking, but coming back from Trek I knew I needed to present and share my experience with others.”

Marc also believes that the service projects he attended have left an impression on him. “Working with buildOn has truly taken me out of my comfort zone, especially during service projects. There are some times at the soup kitchen where you find yourself talking to people without a care in the world. You break down barriers and everyone makes you feel comfortable just talking in all different situations,” Marc says. He keeps coming back to service because he is aware of the difference that he can make. “Just that feeling of helping someone [has inspired me], of being at a senior center or soup kitchen. It put me in a position where I know I don’t need to be doing this, but I want to. It made me realize that I have an impact on others just as much as they have an impact on me.”

Like many of the other students who have served over 400 hours, Marc feels that buildOn is something much bigger than just giving back to the community. “buildOn is way more than just community service, it is a family. When you leave buildOn, you still have family and connections everywhere,” Marc says. “Regardless of where you are or who you know, the buildOn family always grows. Whether you are an alumni or a student, there’s always a place for you at buildOn.”

Ariadna Villeda

11th Grade, Validus Preparatory Academy, New York City

Ariadna Villeda’s favorite service project is KEEN, where she engages children with disabilities in activities and games. “I love to play sports and just run around with the kids,” says Ariadna, who was invited to buildOn by a friend her freshman year of high school. She remembers that as a freshman buildOn was different that what she expected it would be. She decided to keep coming to buildOn because she wanted to “do good” in her community.

Ariadna describes herself as the type of person who anyone can come to for advice. “I am judge-free and will keep to my word,” says Ariadna. She loves when her school serves together and looks forward to more School-Wide Service Days in the future. Ariadna wants people to know that buildOn at Validus Preparatory Academy is inclusive of everyone and strives to serve every population. “We focus on everyone — children, adults, elderly, no one is excluded,” Ariadna says.

Ariadna will be traveling to Nicaragua on Trek in February to help build a school. She has been inspired to serve by her buildOn community and being able to be a role model for other students. She feels that buildOn has helped her become more outgoing. “buildOn has helped me speak in front of a large group. In middle school I was the quiet one, but look at me now!” Ariadna says. “buildOn has changed me into who I am now — a helpful female in the Bronx.”

Kiara Wynter

10th Grade, Validus Preparatory Academy, New York City

Kiara Wynter is passionate about helping others and making her community better. Kiara’s love for community service led her to buildOn at Validus Preparatory Academy during her freshman year. As only a sophomore, Kiara has served nearly 500 hours! “buildOn is like a second family,” Kiara says. “We join with friends who love to do community service and who do great things.”

One of Kiara’s favorite buildOn memories is serving at Brook Park. “We worked at the community garden where we mulched and made the park look beautiful, and then ate ’smores after service,” Kiara says. She would like to see Validus become a greener school and feels that this can be accomplished through the recycling initiative that buildOn is working on. buildOn has also given Kiara insight into her future career path. “I want to be a nurse, so going to Metropolitan Hospital with buildOn has helped me understand what I want to do in the future.”

Kiara loves the friends who she has made through buildOn. Her Service Learning Program Manager, Jon, has motivated her to do as much service as possible. “Jon is very encouraging and really pushes me to do service. I have built a great relationship with him and we even have our own handshake,” Kiara says. She would like to see more students participate in community service. “Just come out and do service!” Kiara says. “buildOn is awesome!”

Join Us