During a time when it feels like almost all of the news that comes out of Chicago’s West Side is bad, Robert Holmes has taken it upon himself to spread joy and positivity in his own community. A senior at Orr Academy in Chicago, Robert has served more than 750 hours with buildOn. But despite his incredible dedication to giving back, Robert is quick to point out that he didn’t always think about helping his community.
“I ain’t going to lie. I didn’t really care for the community—like what would I do for the community when the community has done nothing for me?” Robert remembers. “So I started to join buildOn, it made me see things a lot differently in my community. It made me see things that were right in front of me.”
Above: Now a senior at Orr Academy in Chicago, Robert joined buildOn during his freshman year of high school.
One of the things that Robert immediately realized upon attending his first service project as a high school freshman was that he had the power to make an impact on other people in West Humboldt Park—the neighborhood where he was born and raised. At that project, Robert passed out holiday presents to children whose families had fallen on tough times. “It made me happy,” Robert says. “That day I saw some little kids smiling because they got toys. I almost cried.”
His 797 hours of service are made up of mornings and afternoons spent mentoring young children from nearby elementary schools, delivering groceries to homebound senior citizens and serving meals to people experiencing homelessness.
Since that moment, Robert has never quit serving. His 797 hours of service are made up of mornings and afternoons spent mentoring young children from nearby elementary schools, delivering groceries to homebound senior citizens and serving meals to people experiencing homelessness.
Distributing clothes and food to people at a nearby homeless shelter was another one of Robert’s first service projects that inspired him to continue serving. “That really made my spirit boost up because every time you go down the street you will see that there’s a homeless person sitting right there. You always think, ‘What can I do?’ I went to that project, and we were giving out the food and helping them out. It really cheered me up.”
Above: Robert is a regular volunteer at several community organizations in his neighborhood, including a cooking class at the Salvation Army where he helps teach young children about healthy eating.
Robert feels that serving has made him into the compassionate young man that he is today. He’s gone from being someone who would ignore people experiencing homelessness to someone who does everything within his power to help out. “When I was a small kid, I used to walk past the homeless people and they used to ask me for a dollar,” Robert says. “But now, if I got one more dollar left, I think, ‘Should I keep it to myself or give it to the homeless?’ I’ll give my last dollar to the homeless because they need it more than I do.”
“I’ll give my last dollar to the homeless because they need it more than I do.”
As a result of all of his service, Robert feels more connected to his community. He regularly volunteers to spend quality time with seniors and lead Bingo at the Senior Suites of West Humboldt Park, where he uses his humor to brighten people’s day. “It makes me happy seeing the senior citizens happy and cheerful. Plus, I crack little jokes just to make their day,” Robert says.
Above: Robert leads Bingo for residents at the Senior Suites of West Humboldt Park alongside fellow buildOn students from Orr Academy.
Laughter has always been a way for Robert to connect with the people he meets. There’s a quirkiness to his humor that has been known to transcend cultural and lingual barriers. When he traveled to Haiti to build a school on Trek, he quickly bonded with his host family. “I was like the funny guy for some reason. Probably cause I tripped on the porch, that’s when I shooed away some chickens, it was an army of them—they chased me and my roommate out our gate.”
“Service impacted me a lot because it helped me build my leadership skills.”
All joking aside, Robert walked away from Trek with a new perspective not just on Haiti, but also his own community back in Chicago. When he got back, he saw that students at his school were taking the education they were given for granted, and it made him try harder in his studies. “I tried real hard because Trek made me set a goal for myself to get out of high school, go to college, and find a way to continue to help people in Haiti.”
Although Robert is currently undecided about where he will go to school next year and what he will study, he’s confident that he will continue to serve others throughout his life. After all, he credits service with shaping him into who he is today. “Service impacted me a lot because it helped me build my leadership skills,” Robert says. “It helped me be kinder to others—be more giving to people. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that it changed my whole perspective.”
Below: Robert regularly visits the Senior Suites of West Humboldt Park to spend quality time with the residents.