Most teenagers can’t say they spent their high school years raising $35,000 to build a school in a developing country; but Katie Gummeson can. At the tender age of 17, Katie just completed her dream of building a school in Haiti with buildOn.
The Gummesons live in New Canaan, Conn. – a city that’s big on philanthropy, says Katie’s mother Susan Gummeson. Katie, a senior at New Canaan High School, became interested in philanthropy her freshman year when she got involved with the Young Philanthropist Fund, a subsidiary of The New Canaan Community Foundation, of which Susan is a member.
Katie started raising money around the same time, buying designer clothing she’d find discounted at shops and reselling the pieces on eBay – but she didn’t know what to use it for. Then one day in early 2010, Susan went to a luncheon hosted by The New Canaan Community Foundation and saw buildOn’s President and CEO, Jim Ziolkowski, speak about buildOn.
“He was absolutely memorizing and fantastic,” Susan said. A local TV channel was replaying footage from the luncheon, so Susan told Katie to watch it. Katie did and decided that building a school in Haiti was something she was interested in, since the earthquake had just destroyed hundreds of buildings on the island a few months prior.
The Gummesons made an appointment to talk to buildOn’s development team in Stamford, Conn. After learning more about buildOn, Katie made the commitment to raise $35,000 to build a school and fund an adult literacy program in Vilou, Haiti. Katie liked the buildOn process: the fact that the community would be involved in building the school, buildOn works with the country’s Ministry of Education, half of the people attending the school would be girls, and the parents of the students who were illiterate would also receive an education. Katie continued to raise money with her eBay business, which was making a lot of money, and by collecting her birthday money and asking relatives to pitch in.
This summer she reached their goal – and the school was completed this month!
“I wanted to make a legacy rather than a donation, and I can see how the community worked so hard to build this school and how they will help their children and themselves better their education and hopefully their day-to-day lives,” Katie wrote, via email. “By improving others’ lives, I feel my life has improved.”
Her proud mother added, “Katie feels strongly about women and education and hopes to continue her science career in collage, and to contribute her knowledge to society.”
The Gummesons didn’t make it down for the Vilou school’s groundbreaking in July, but they are planning to visit the school at some point.