These buildOn Students Have Served More Than 400 Hours

As 2017 comes to an end, we celebrate the buildOn students who surpassed 400 hours of service during the 2016-17 school year. By cooking meals for the homeless, spending quality time with seniors and acting as mentors to young children, these dedicated students are changing communities for the better. They have stayed late to volunteer after school, woken up early on Saturdays in order to serve and given the very best of themselves to transform their schools and communities. Together, they have devoted well over 4,000 hours to breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations!

Thomas Thermidor

buildOn Alum, Community Academy of Science & Health, Boston

If people could know one thing about Thomas, he says it should be that he is a hard worker and is committed to the things he is passionate about. And having already completed 400 hours of service with buildOn, that certainly includes giving back to his community. Thomas is passionate about helping others and hopes more of his peers will considering joining buildOn. “I want people to know that buildOn is a family, and we welcome anyone.”

Thomas’s favorite service project is with Boston Rescue Mission where he has had the opportunity to serve food to men who are recovering from drug addictions. “We had the chance to sit and talk to them and they shared their life experiences with us,” he says.

Thomas hopes that he could have a positive impact on the bullying problem he sees at his school. “Students with disabilities are sometimes targeted,” he says. “buildOn could help make people aware and educate students on the issue.”

Because of buildOn, Thomas has had the opportunity to go on Trek to Malawi, and learn skills that he believes he would never have learned in high school alone. And by serving with buildOn on Saturdays throughout the school year, he says he’s stayed involved in his community in positive ways. “Without those opportunities,” he says, “I may have ended up with the wrong crowd.”

Frantzy Geneste

buildOn Alum, Bassick High School, Bridgeport

Frantzy joined buildOn during his freshman year because he was looking for something to do after school. During his senior year, he completed over 400 hours of service. “I love doing service, I have a passion for it. It never got boring to me,” he says. “… there is always something new to keep me looking forward to the next service project.”

Through the organization Homes for the Brave, Frantzy has had the opportunity to make dinner and serve veterans. “This is one of my favorite projects because we get to cook and they are really appreciative of us being there,” he says. “It’s a really intimate project and we actually get to interact with them and have dinner with them.”

As a freshman, Frantzy says he had a lot of anxiety about what people thought about him. Now he says he is more confident, and buildOn has taught him how to engage with people in a real and intimate way. “buildOn has impacted my life. It has been an integral part of my high school experience. When I look back on high school, I’ll be remembering my time at buildOn,” he says. “Service is part of who I am now. I’ve made friendships and memories that will last a lifetime … I’m not here because I want stuff, or hours, or awards, or for my resume. I’m here because I believe in what buildOn does.”

Jonathan Hernandez

12th Grade, Schurz High School, Chicago

During Jonathan’s freshman year he attended his first buildOn event—a scavenger hunt in his community. What he ended up finding was a passion for helping others and being a part of the buildOn family.

Now a senior, Jonathan has completed over 400 service hours with buildOn and has no intention of stopping. He particularly loves serving at Cornerstone Community Outreach, an organization that provides food, shelter, clothing, and support to Chicago families in need. “I like going there a lot because you get to interact with people that are struggling,” says Jonathan. “I get to help put a smile on their face and let them know I care about them.”

Jonathan remembers struggling a lot during his freshman year before he joined buildOn. “I was having trouble socializing and I lost contact with myself,” he says. “buildOn made me feel a part of something … it helped me go back to myself.” He admits that at first he thought of buildOn as simply an extracurricular activity in his schedule. But now he sees it as so much more. “…it’s a family that goes out to help other people and stands up for what’s better,” he adds.

Jonathan is passionate about defeating gang violence in his community, and he thinks buildOn can help engage youth and keep them out of trouble. He also wants to end racism and discrimination.

Sonia Sotelo

11th Grade, Schurz High School, Chicago

Sonia loves helping others and considers herself very open-minded. “I’ll be there for anything. I won’t judge people. I take the time to get to know them,” she says. And through buildOn, she’s been able to do just that. After only being involved with buildOn for about a year, Sonia has already completed 400 hours of service. “It’s fun, so you don’t feel like it’s something that you are being forced to do,” Sonia says. “You do it out of your own will. I don’t even care about the hours. I do it because I enjoy it.”

Sonia’s favorite project so far was with Inspiration Cafe—a restaurant that serves people experiencing homelessness. “I liked it because it’s not like any other shelter where you just get a tray. It’s set up like a restaurant where you have servers that take orders,” she says. “I enjoy getting to talk and interact with the people there.”

During the spring of 2016, Sonia went on Trek to Nicaragua with buildOn. At first she felt homesick, but by the third day, she felt like she was at home for the first time. “My host parents talked to me and my roommates as if we were their children,” she says. “They made us feel very welcome there.”

Sonia says that buildOn has helped her learn more about the world around her and keep her mind off of problems. But more than anything, she says, “buildOn to me means to be friendly to everyone and lend a hand when needed.”

Daniel Moore

12th Grade, Western International High School, Detroit

Daniel has been involved with buildOn since his sophomore year and sees it as a place of opportunity. “Right when you walk in, there is always something going on,” he says. “It gives you something to do when you don’t really know what to do. It keeps you busy.”

And he has definitely kept busy. Daniel says that meeting so many new people really helped him continue to keep showing up and complete over 400 hours of service. He loves engaging with his community and expanding his horizons. In particular, buildOn has helped him overcome his fear of public speaking.

If Daniel could change one thing about his school or community, it would be the focus on material things. “People are too focused on what they don’t have, and they don’t stop and realize the small things, like someone walking up to you and saying ‘hi’ to you every day, or a compliment or a smile,” he says. “I think buildOn is full of people who want to feel accepted.”

Daniel admits that when he first joined buildOn, he felt a little awkward. But he says, “…that’s kind of the spirit of buildOn—embracing the awkwardness and becoming a team.” And he hopes his peers will consider joining as well. “At first it’s going to be weird, and you’re not going to be comfortable,” he says. “But after you break that seal, you’ll get comfortable and find who you are as a person.”

Shola Cascen

11th Grade, Harry S. Truman High School, New York City

If Shola could share one thing about her experience with buildOn with her peers, it would be this: “…buildOn welcomes everyone and you have a safe place when you feel like you don’t. You’ll also feel good about the service you committed from the beginning to the end.”

Prior to buildOn, Shola was shy and had trouble coming out of her shell. But now, having completed over 400 hours of service, she can see how much she’s changed. Her favorite memories include the times she’s been able to spend with new friends she’s created bonds with. “buildOn is home to me because while you help people, you work with others that you consider family.”

Her favorite service project is the Hunts Point Repack where she helps sort donated and bulk items at the Food Distribution Center. The food is then shipped directly to food pantries and community kitchens throughout New York’s five boroughs, helping to feed those in need.

Shola is the vice president of her school, and in addition to helping others, she is passionate about arts and crafts. She hopes that through her involvement, she can encourage more of her peers to join buildOn and help make a difference in their community.

D’andra Evans

11th Grade, Harry S. Truman High School, New York City

D’andra, now a junior, joined buildOn during her freshman year of high school simply because she was interested in giving back to her community. “I like helping people,” she says. “It makes me feel like I’m making a mark, even if small.”

One of D’andra’s favorite memories is when she participated in buildOn’s summer internship program and had the opportunity to stay overnight in a hostel and had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. Her favorite service project is the anti-bullying citywide service. Remembering that event, D’andra says, “…it made me feel like there were other people who had experienced what I did in middle school.”

D’andra is also passionate about studying law. She loves looking back at old cases and seeing how new incidents can influence changes in the law. And through her work with buildOn, she hopes to decrease gun violence in her community by spreading awareness about the people it impacts. These people, and everyone in her community, are what give her the drive to keep coming back to service project after service project. “buildOn is a place where everyone is welcome,” she says. “It’s a space to meet friends while serving others who may not be as well off as you are.”

Jheivonnia Johnson

buildOn Alum, Harry S. Truman High School, New York City

“buildOn is kind of like home to me,” says Jheivonnia. “It’s where I come to have fun, meet people, let go and learn.” Jheivonnia joined in the middle of her sophomore year and considers herself very determined, hardworking, competitive, and ambitious. But the real reason she thinks she was able to complete 400 hours of service is because she was inspired by impacting people’s lives and helping to change the public’s perspective of teenagers in a positive way.

Jheivonnia was first interested in joining buildOn because of the opportunity to go on Trek, and when she went to Nicaragua in 2015, the experience did not disappoint. “It was phenomenal,” she says. “I didn’t really understand the impact of my experience until I returned and shared with people what I had done. Then I realized I had changed a lot.”

Jheivonnia hopes to change the low expectations of students and thinks buildOn’s mission addresses this need perfectly. She hopes her peers see that there is more to buildOn than meets the eye. “Everybody thinks that it is only about service and unpaid work,” she says. “But it’s also about having fun and sharing resources and opportunities.”

Tania Thomas

12th Grade, Mott Hall Bronx High School, New York City

Tania, a senior, has been involved with buildOn since her freshman year. “It means so much to me because it has given me so much experience and great memories throughout the years,” she says, adding, “buildOn gave me the opportunity to make friends and learn about myself and how to create actions to make a change.”

In February of 2017, Tania had the opportunity to go on Trek to Senegal. Being able to create happy memories, travel internationally, and serve all at the same time made it her favorite buildOn memory thus far. “It was really a once in a lifetime experience,” she says.

Tania is inspired to continue her service because she loves the idea of making someone’s day. She says, “I like to smile and laugh, so I want others to feel the same.” Tania also wants to change the way people view teenagers and prove that she and her buildOn peers are making a positive impact on their communities. “We are the best at what we do and we see each other as family,” she says. “We’re always looking for new family members.”

Angelina Perez

11th Grade, Oakland High School, Oakland

When Angelina first joined buildOn, she was very shy. But after completing more than 400 hours of service, she’s developed friendships and changed lives at the same time. “I feel like service is addictive,” she says. “It became a very special part of my first year of high school. I was able to quickly make new friends in a very fun environment.”

While she enjoys several different service projects, her favorite is working with Uhuru Foods. “[Their goal is not] just to feed people, but to receive donations so that people can continue to be fed,” says Angelina. One of her favorite memories during her time there is when she made pies to hand out on Christmas. “It was really, really rewarding that we were able to help them on a very special day!”

Angelina says that buildOn has helped her see more of her community. “Before the 9th grade, I was mostly inside and didn’t really communicate with anyone,” she says. “Then I joined buildOn and it has helped me explore Oakland and the world.” In the summer of 2016, Angelina went on Trek to Malawi. Her favorite memory is when community members in Malawi started singing and joined a dancing circle. “I like that memory because even though we were all tired, we still had the energy to come together and celebrate each other,” she says.

Although Angelina recognizes the danger and challenges her community faces, she wants people to know that Oakland is so much more. “We’re happy, fun, we go through the same things that other places go through,” she says. “We’re real people who are trying to do good.”

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