2 Million & Counting: The 2017 buildOn Gala

On Thursday, November 16th, hundreds of buildOn supporters, partners and students gathered at New York’s Javits Center to celebrate ‘2 Million & Counting’ at the 2017 buildOn Gala. This exciting evening served as a celebration of three important milestones in buildOn’s 26 years of service and education: 2 million hours of youth service in the U.S., 2 million volunteer days building schools across the globe, and 2 million lives touched by buildOn’s service and education programs. The 2017 buildOn Gala raised close to $3 million to support buildOn’s work to empower youth and communities in America’s underserved cities and the economically poorest countries in the world.

buildOn Chief Revenue Officer Marc Friedman kicked off the celebration by thanking and welcoming the amazing partners who make buildOn’s work possible. buildOn Founder, President and CEO Jim Ziolkowski followed with a moving look behind the numbers, digging deep into the stories of the inspiring members of the buildOn movement who have had their lives transformed — and have transformed the lives of others — through service.


We were fortunate to have one of those incredible partners, Richard Graham, join Jim on stage to share his moving service story. Richard recounted how the kindness of a stranger saved his life when he was diagnosed with AIDS in the early 1990s, how paying forward that kindness at the Momentum soup kitchen in the South Bronx has kept him alive for the last twenty-five years, and how he sees buildOn students spreading that same sense of hope when they serve at Momentum. “That’s the power of service—it doesn’t matter if you are on the receiving end or the giving end—and it doesn’t matter if you’re an adult recently diagnosed with AIDS or a fifteen year old student from the South Bronx—service has the power to give you resiliency so that you never give up,” Richard said.


After dinner and an donation appeal that bursted with excitement from the cheers of buildOn students, buildOn honored the 2017 buildOn Award winners. These awards are given each year to buildOn staff members who exemplify the very best of our movement. This year’s winners were: Bridgeport Service Learning Coordinator Jackie Vargas — Compassion Award; Nepal Trek Coordinator Jharana Bam — Empowerment Award; Senior Service Learning Program Manager Jessie Schwartz — Responsibility Award; and Nicaragua Trek Coordinator Nick Hess — Ahmed Khere “Never Give Up” Award.


This year’s buildOn Gala was hosted by Dominic Barton, McKinsey & Company Global Managing Partner, who shared the groundbreaking experience that he and members of his team recently had serving with buildOn students as part of the 36 Hours program. Dominic strongly encouraged all in attendance to take advantage of this one-of-a-kind service and leadership experience with buildOn students. “Their resilience, grit, and compassion are truly inspiring,” Dominic Barton said, “And it’s what makes each and every one of them a phenomenal leader.”


During buildOn’s 36 Hours program, corporate leaders like Dominic are paired with a student service leader. Dominic’s student ‘buddy’ Cheyanne Jackson, a buildOn student at the School for Tourism & Hospitality, joined him on stage to share her perspective on 36 Hours and her powerful service story. Cheyanne emphasized how much it meant to have the McKinsey team immerse in her school and community. “When Dominic served alongside me at a local food pantry, I saw how generous and giving he is. Even though he was supposed to give out two cans of food per person, Dominic insisted on giving double that,” Cheyanne said. She also added what being a part of buildOn has meant to her. “Being a part of buildOn has helped me because I felt I was one of those kids crying for help. I felt like I didn’t have anybody to turn to but now, I feel wanted, I feel loved, I feel happiness — it’s everything that I wanted for a long time.”


The evening concluded with Gil De Jesus, a buildOn student from Mott Hall Bronx High School, and Rooben St. Martin, a buildOn Alumnus from Bridgeport, Connecticut, sharing the impact service has had on them. “buildOn showed me that I have the power to make a difference in people’s lives now, and I want to continue to make an impact for the rest of my life,” Gil said. “I’m on pace to be the Valedictorian at Mott Hall and the first in my family to go to college.”


Rooben and Gil concluded the celebration by calling all of the buildOn students to the stage to close the epic evening with a spirited “WE ARE BUILDON!” cheer.

buildOn extends a huge thank you to all the supporters who joined us to celebrate and all the partners who make our work possible. Special thanks to Dominic Barton, Jill and Jeff Bornstein, Dan Janki, Mary Frances Jones and Stanley Eisenberg, Margaret Keene, Ralph Layman, Jody and John Myers, John Raffaeli, Karen Seitz, Janet and Keith Sherin, and Don Torey, as well as Citibank and Synchrony Financial.