The 2016 buildOn Boston Dinner celebrated the transformational power of service, uniting buildOn students, community leaders and Citizens of the buildOn Movement to celebrate the impact service is having on youth, their communities and our world. The evening showcased the stories of buildOn student service leaders who personally been impacted by serving others. Two students from the Community Academy for Science and Health (CASH) shared how service helped them both find purpose, family and community hundreds of miles from their native home in Haiti.
Two years ago I moved from Haiti to Boston. In Haiti I was carefree; loved and protected by my family, happy in school and surrounded by friends. My best friend was my father. We would go to work together, go to the beach together, and he even included me on family decisions. We were inseparable.
But when we moved to Boston, my father had to stay behind. I was unprepared to instantly become the man of the house for my mother and two younger brothers. I was responsible for my brothers even though I was just a kid myself. I missed the support and guidance my dad always gave me.
School was no better. I felt totally isolated. I would stay in a corner of the classroom not talking to anybody. I didn’t know any English and I was scared. I was completely alone. In Haiti, my dad and I would often talk about my future. I knew he wanted the best for me. He wanted me to succeed and go to college. In America, the question was burning in my mind—what was I going to become and how was I going to get there?
“In America, the question was burning in my mind—what was I going to become and how was I going to get there?”
Then, I began to hear about buildOn and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I thought if I could meet people in the community and learn to serve others I could become stronger and be better able to help myself. I began to go to service with buildOn every week, and I am happy to share with you that I have completed 263 hours of service… I fell in love with the Boston Rescue Mission. We sit and eat meals with individuals recovering from drug and alcohol addiction and discuss our lives. The men there are so open sharing their life stories with us and are happy to explain how they became who they are.
During this time, I also began to make friends with the other buildOn students like Aldair Francois, who is also Haitian. We would serve together every Saturday and then go to someone’s house to cook and eat, to play soccer, to play music and to support one another as friends. Aldair is a leader to me, he serves people as equals, and treats everyone with respect. One year ago Aldair and I traveled to Malawi to help build a foundation of a new school with buildOn. Working with Aldair every day allowed me to see him as a brother, a real family member. I still miss my father every day, but I have found a new best friend in Aldair.
Moving to the United States forced me to grow up so quickly. But, through buildOn I have learned what a strong leader I am. In buildOn I can share my feelings with students like me, I can build bonds with people in the community and I can learn from the service projects where I volunteer.
My experiences in buildOn have also given me a new best friend, who I am now happy to introduce to you, Aldair Francois!
I was born and raised on the nation of Haiti, with warm breezes and temperate climates, but on December 2, 2010 I found myself walking the dark and icy streets of Boston. At the age of 13 I had moved from Haiti to the United States to join my mother, who had been living in Boston for two years. The U.S. had been on my mind for a long time, and finally, here I was! I didn’t feel joy though, I felt uncomfortable and out of place.
I took my only comfort in knowing that we had a plan, my mother had been working and living with my uncle as she looked for a house for us. We were ready to move in with my uncle too. But when we arrived and tried my mother’s keys in the door, we realized with broken hearts that the locks had been changed. This was his way of telling us we were not welcome in his home.
I was mad and scared at the same time, and my expectations of a perfect life in the US were gone completely. There were six of us who needed shelter. We began looking everywhere. We had no money to rent a hotel and no other family who could support us.
Eventually my auntie connected us with a woman from her church who allowed us to stay with her for 14 days while we found a place to live. I was finally relieved. I remember the shock I felt by this woman’s generosity. She didn’t know our background, and yet, she was allowing us to live with her. This feeling stuck with me!
And that feeling led me to buildOn. As a high schooler at CASH I was pretty lonely. My mom had warned me about dangers in the community and so I stuck to myself. Then, my junior year a new program called buildOn came to CASH.
When I got there I was surprised how open the conversation was. We talked about change for the community and it was clear that any opinion was welcome. I liked the way I felt. The next day I went with buildOn to the Boston Rescue Mission, a house for people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, and helping to end homelessness. I was excited to help them, but it turns out I was helping myself as well. While we were getting started to serve the meal the people began to come downstairs and I became confused. They didn’t look homeless to me.
I asked, “Are these the homeless people?” and I was told that Boston Rescue Mission serves many different people at different stages of homelessness. I remembered how close I was to being homeless when I first arrived in the U.S. I knew that someone else’s generosity saved my family from the streets and as I looked around the room, I realized that I could have been there myself.
Through my service with buildOn I have been able to let go of my anger and have learned that if someone has done anything wrong to you, show them love, they will feel that love and realize their mistake.
When we sat down to eat with the clients I sat next to a kind, middle-aged man. We began to talk and he told me his life story. He said he had made bad decisions and was separated from his family. He had surrounded himself with bad friends who had influenced him negatively. He wanted to reconnect to his family but felt that they would never forgive him for the mistakes he had made. He advised me on making good decisions and positive friends. This conversation really stuck with me. After the meal I began to think that if he is that old and he regrets the decisions he’s made in life, then why would I want to grow up with a negative mind?
Now, as a senior, I have served over 150 service hours with buildOn. I have met many new and kind people through service. In fact, friends like Thomas. Thomas is the top of his class with a 4.69 GPA, and his priority in education bleeds off onto the other students he is friends with, me included. Thomas leads by example, showing loyalty and responsibility to everything he is involved in. He is constantly showing me how being positive can improve my life. Thank you Thomas for being my friend.
I do not feel anger towards the uncle who shut us out. In fact, I call him regularly to check in on him and show him I care about him as a person. Through my service with buildOn I have been able to let go of my anger and have learned that if someone has done anything wrong to you, show them love, they will feel that love and realize their mistake.
Last Friday, I graduated from CASH High School and will be at MassBay (Community College) in the fall.