Luis Almendarez joined buildOn at Oakland High School on the recommendation of a teacher. Now a college student at the University of California, Davis, Luis credits service with changing his life and putting him on a path to success.
I joined buildOn my sophomore year of high school for a selfish reason—I thought it would look good on my resume. But due to that selfish reason, my entire life changed.
In high school, I was an average student. However, I would rarely speak because I was terrified of being made fun of for my accent. I immigrated to the United States when I was 10 years old, and due to that reason, I was always behind educationally.
But to fully understand my story, we have to go back to my early childhood.
I was born in a small town in Honduras—a town where getting an education is not the first priority for anyone, putting food on the table is. My biological father abandoned me when I was just an infant; my 17-year-old mother was left alone to take care of me.
When I was three years old, my mom decided to sacrifice everything for me when she immigrated to the United States. Meanwhile, I lived with my grandmother.
I immigrated to the United States when I was 10 years old. Adjusting to a new country, a new culture, a new language, and a new education system was difficult. I was excited to begin school in the U.S. because I was finally going to receive a quality education—or so I thought.
Above: Luis (second from left) joined buildOn as a sophomore at Oakland High School and amassed more than 200 hours of service by the time he graduated in 2014.
At school, I saw many students who found no interest or fulfillment in the school system. I couldn’t help but think of the children back home in Honduras and how they would sacrifice everything for this type of education.
But, how could I blame all the kids at my school for lacking motivation? Their community and education system was failing them. How could we be successful when our role models were people standing on a corner selling drugs?
…what I will never forget about that day is the moment when people looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you.” That was the moment when I realized that I could make a difference in the world.
As time went by, I started to wonder why I should try so hard in school if no one else was. Thankfully, during my sophomore year of high school, one of my teachers told me about buildOn and the many reasons why I should join, so I decided to give it a try. I remember how nervous I was walking into the buildOn meeting, but all of that changed when I saw how friendly and welcoming the other students were.
After seeing how passionate the other kids were about service, I decided to participate, and to this day, I believe it was the best decision I have ever made. My first volunteer experience was at the Lake Merritt Methodist Church. We were so busy passing out food at their food pantry, but what I will never forget about that day is the moment when people looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you.” That was the moment when I realized that I could make a difference in the world.
Above: After spending three years at Diablo Valley College, Luis is transferring to the University of California, Davis to study Computational Cognitive Science.
After that day, I became more active in buildOn. I started to look forward to serving every weekend. By the time I graduated high school, I had contributed over 200 hours of community service, and I no longer worried that people would make fun of me or judge me because of my accent. Being a part of buildOn gave me a sense of community, and it also gave me the confidence I needed to not only become a better student but also a leader in my community.
If I hadn’t stepped in the door of that first buildOn meeting, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Joining buildOn also opened many doors for me—it put me on a path toward a successful future. Serving with buildOn gave me the confidence to join many other organizations, including Genesys Works, which has led me to obtain internships at Salesforce and PG&E. And now, through my work as an IT Instructor, I get to teach underserved high school students—kids like who I was in high school—about the importance of technology.
If I hadn’t stepped in the door of that first buildOn meeting, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I will be transferring to the University of California, Davis in the fall as a Computational Cognitive Science major. I owe most of my success to buildOn because service showed me that I could not only make a difference, I could change the world.