2021 Boston ‘Why We Can’t Wait’ Event – Student Speakers

On September 9th, 2021, buildOn hosted a virtual event featuring buildOn Boston students, corporate leaders, and supporters. At this special event, buildOn Boston students Ana Luisa Paiva and Sasha Hayde-Toussaint spoke about their deep connection to service and ‘Why We Can’t Wait’ to build a better and more compassionate future.

2021 Boston Constructive Leadership Award Winner, Ana Luisa Paiva, with Introduction from buildOn Alumna Elizabeth Fortress


Elizabeth Fortress: Hello again! Tonight, I have the distinguished pleasure of introducing the 2021 constructive leadership award. Last year, I was honored with this award, and tonight I am grateful for this opportunity to pass the baton to an amazing buildOn student in Boston. This award was created to recognize students who embodied the principles of Constructive Leadership: empathy, courage, resilience, passion for the possible, and solidarity.

The winner of the award walks in the shoes of others, confronts challenges, and never gives up no matter what. Above all, they understand that we belong to each other and we have each other’s back. The buildOn student nominated for this award exemplifies these principles, and I am excited to honor our Boston winner tonight.

I would like to congratulate the winner of the 2021 Constructive Leadership Award: Ana Luisa Paiva. Please join me in welcoming Ana to the stage.

Ana Luisa Paiva: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Last year was my first time studying abroad, here in the United States. I never thought I would be standing here today. I am extremely honored to be receiving the Constructive Leadership Award. I am so grateful for the recognition I have received for my work because I’m very sure that every other nominee for this award was as capable – if not more – for winning this award. 

Being here today would not have been possible without the inspiration I have received from my teachers and mentors, for whom I have the deepest respect and from whom I have gained the strength to challenge myself and be a better person everyday. I thank each one of you, Ms. Baxton, Ms. Criscenzo,  and Ms. Paganelli, for believing in me and helping me get here today, where I can hold this award up as a mark of my achievement. 

I also thank buildOn for letting me be a part of this. This organization is amazing. It has changed thousands of lives from all around the world, mine as well. Working with buildOn has been inspiring, and I would love to share a little bit about myself and my experiences in this program.

Well, first of all, let me present myself. My name is Anna Paiva, a buildOn student at the Community Academy of Science and Health. During the pandemic, I moved from Brazil to live with my father’s side of the family in Boston. When I first came to my new school, we were already learning virtually, which made it difficult to build my own community here.

I am a very social person, but I did not have access to my school or after-school activities like I would in a normal year. So it was challenging to make friends. Just when I was really starting to miss my community back home, I heard there was a program where I could help people. And that’s when I joined buildOn. buildOn allows me to go deeper on subjects and issues that affect our society.

The first project I did with buildOn was a climate change project. We had conversations that helped me see how my own actions can have an impact on others and our environment. Even though these actions might be small, they can affect the larger community over time if we share this information with others and encourage them to join our efforts. To do something big, we often need to start small.

This summer with buildOn, I participated in the Leaders in Training program. We spent time learning about what it means to be a leader and how anyone can change the world if they really want to. I left that program with this in mind: I must be thoughtful. When I’m thoughtful, I will reflect on my own actions, change for the better, and lead with empathy in the future.

For me, empathy is the most important part of being a good leader. It requires us to look into another person’s eyes and step into their shoes to really see what they are going through. If you’re going to try to help someone, you have to put in an effort to understand them and their story. For me, empathy means greeting the new person in school, making them feel welcomed, and showing them community. During this pandemic, we can help our neighbors. We can cook for each other, knock on their door, and give them some food and company. Sometimes it just takes one person to say, I see you; you’re not alone.

I am looking forward to this new school year to serve and help people in my community. I hope to make many new friends and to encourage them to join me and volunteer with children.

I know people feel lonely right now, and they may not know how to ask for help, but they need our support. And that is what we are going to do for one another. With the skills I learned at buildOn, I feel more confident to go out and be a leader for change in Boston and even back in Brazil. After high school, I plan to pursue a career as a surgeon because I come from a family of nurses and neurosurgeons.

People in my family have told me it’s a lot of hard work; you don’t want to pursue it. But helping people is my true passion. So that’s what I’m going to do. My goal as a surgeon is to help patients who do not have access to the healthcare they deserve. I believe that people need others to help them. And we can get that back in return.

I would like to leave you tonight with the Brazilian phrase that I think about every time I’m working on a project, “seja a razão pela qual as pessoas ainda acreditam na bondade ou na generosidade,” which means be the reason that people still believe in kindness and generosity. Thank you.

buildOn Boston Student Sasha Hayde-Toussaint


Hello everyone. My name is Sasha Hayde-Toussaint. And I’m a junior at Fenway High School here in Boston. When the pandemic first hit, it felt like my life was being put on hold and was being controlled by something that I couldn’t even see. There was so much negativity going on in the world and everything seemed so uncertain.

During that time, I was also living in a neighborhood that had become unsafe because of the threat of gun violence. It became really difficult for me, my mom, and my sister. We had lived in that community for 10 years. It was our home, but we knew it wasn’t safe to stay there anymore. We started looking for other places to live, and before I could even process such a big change, we’re moving into a new neighborhood that my mom felt would be safer. 

Even though it probably would have been easier to just worry about ourselves during that crazy time, my mom, sister, and I decided we needed to support our community however we could. My sister started making meals for the unhoused people who were living on the streets near the hospital, and me and my mom would pack it all up and hand it out to people.

Soon after that, I learned about buildOn and started serving with them virtually from home. I miss seeing my friends and going to school and playing on my basketball team. Like so many other people, the pandemic was taking a toll on my mental health, so it was really helpful to have buildOn as a place to connect with others.

I enjoy service with buildOn because we take challenging issues that people are often scared to talk about, like homelessness and gun violence, and we turn them into interesting projects that we can all take action on together. A few months ago, I participated in an environmental justice project where we learned about the ways the environment affects marginalized communities.

We all planted seeds in recycled egg cartons, containers, or other materials we could use and shared what we did with others to help fight the problem of air pollution. It made me realize that small actions can grow to have a big impact over time when we all come together.

I’ve always wanted to help people. It’s just the way I’ve been brought up. But I believe everyone has the power to be a good person. I think a lot of people don’t feel like they really can do anything about the issues they see. They might feel like their opinion won’t be taken into consideration, or they’re scared about what other people will think of them.

People may feel like they don’t have power and that the people with power won’t listen to them, but in the fight for a safer and better world, I believe you should follow your instincts and speak out because you never truly know unless you try. 

It’s easier said than done, but I believe you should try, so you don’t live with regrets about it. You don’t want to pass up the opportunity to make change and then look back on it, thinking what if I said something? What if I did something? What if I acted sooner? buildOn gives me a space to act now. I hope you will join me.

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