As the 2016-17 school year came to an end, buildOn students across the country reflected on their experiences serving at home and abroad. Christian Mendez, a buildOn student at the Community Academy of Science and Health (CASH) in Boston, recently shared his personal story about how service has helped him make an impact in his Boston community and honor the legacy of close friends lost to gun violence.
When I was younger, I was so trapped in my own neighborhood that I forgot there were other things in the world.
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.
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.
I have a tattoo on my left arm that says Forever Ky. It is for Kyle, who 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. I have a 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.
Below: Christian and Jeff Bornstein, CFO of buildOn corporate partner GE, hug as Christian takes the stage to speak at the buildOn Boston Dinner. Christian and Jeff bonded over service when GE visited CASH high school as part of buildOn’s 36 Hours program.