Recap of buildOn’s 500 Schools, 1 Million Hours Celebration

buildOn reached two huge milestones on Saturday. We hit one million hours served by Unites States students locally – and we inaugurated our 500th school built globally. Our staff decided there was only one thing to do: celebrate with a day of service and top it off with a fun party! Our National Director of Communications, Carrie Pena, organized a live webcast with our Vice President of International Programs, Rosann Jager, who was in Haiti. The plan was to broadcast our interview with the villagers of our 500th school in St. Hilaire, Haiti on buildOn’s YouTube channel at 5:30 p.m. EST.

From the Bay Area to the Bronx, over a thousand buildOn members (several joining buildOn for the first time), along with donors, volunteers, teachers and advisors, began service at noon EST. Some regions had never had so many members out in attendance before.

After service, buildOn students and volunteers in each region gathered at one place to celebrate with cake, music and inspirational speeches. Every party was unique. You could feel the students’ energy as they broke out in applause when Jim Ziolkowski, buildOn’s CEO and President, announced via the live stream that buildOn had reached 1 Million Hours of service that day at 1:31 p.m. EST. After watching the live-stream, the audience chanted, “We are… buildOn!”

Here are our highlights from each of our regions:

New York

Students doing service: 240 in the Bronx, 86 in Brooklyn
buildOn New York organized a Children’s Literacy Fair at the Bronx’s PS 35 and a Community Fair at PS 397 in Brooklyn, with fun games and arts and crafts. Activities included a three-legged race, playing basketball, jumping rope, making castles out of recycled materials, face painting, origami, and chalk art with children from local elementary schools. In the Bronx, each attendee left with one children’s book.

Staff hosted a spontaneous open mic with students who spoke about their work with buildOn before featuring the live-stream. The live stream was set up at the The Bronx School for Law, Government & Justice so Ziolkowski and Pena could talk directly with Jagger and the residents in St. Hilaire.

“It was such an empowering moment to have that broadcast from Haiti, bringing two worlds together, along with having the entire buildOn team and students to share that experience together,” said Shyon Bobb, 21, buildOn alumna of the Bronx Center for Science and Math.

The live stream was followed by speeches by Diahann Billings-Burford, buildOn board member and Chief Service Officer of NYC Service; and buildOn alumna Tierra Coleman.


Students doing service: 100
buildOn Detroit set up two service projects at the Michigan Veteran’s Foundation. At one, students served meals to veterans, organized the library, and sorted supplies (such as hygiene kits) and organized donations so they could be given to those in need. The center had tons of supplies, but more than what could be organized in a day. Students also served veterans food from a barbeque the center’s partners hosted.

There were three speakers at the event: Keely Czartorski, a buildOn alumna from Troy High School; and two of buildOn’s Global Chapter Members from Wayne State University, Carol Noronha and Anita Vasedeva. They spoke about finding what makes you passionate and then following through.

During the celebration, students from every region were asked to fill out a card about how they are “breaking the cycle.” Jaren Taylor, of Oak Park High School, wrote a particularly strong testimonial: “I’m Breaking the Cycle of by… avoiding and taking others away from negative situations, by making sure education-based needs are met before all else and by making stereotypes dissipate.”


Students doing service: 230 students
buildOn Chicago hosted two pumpkin patches at Piotrowski and Humboldt Park with activities, games and an outdoor petting zoo. Children and parents from the neighborhood came to select pumpkins and join in activities our students organized, which included crafts, playing on inflatables, and lots of face painting! Volunteers were able to put smiles on the children’s faces while making sure they had a safe time. Meanwhile, a group of 30 students socialized with seniors at Casa Central by serving them lunch, talking with them and facilitating a coloring project.

Marilyn Morales, Area Manager for Chicago Park District, was in attendance at Piotrowski Park and remarked, “How did you guys get over 100 students to come out here and do such amazing work? This is really incredible.”

Students arrived at Jones College Prep early, so staff organized a short “Voices of buildOn” talent show. Students sang, rapped and danced until right before the live-stream.

Barry Ford, a senior at Lindblom Math and Science Academy, spoke about the impact he was able to have through being a part of buildOn and how students have the responsibility to give back to the community. Ford received the President’s Volunteer Award at this year’s National Conference of Volunteering and Service. He has completed over 400 hours of service!


Students doing service: 101
There were two events: a “Save Furness” rally and a Fall Festival at the Rivera Recreation Center. Forty-three students from our Youth Engagement Zone at Furness High School participated in the rally advocating for their school, which has been placed on a closure list for the 2013-2014 school year. Students made signs, participated in small group discussions, and participated in a “talk-back” with school district staff.

buildOn members planned and facilitated the Fall Festival activities for the community surrounding Rivera Recreation Center, which has the largest Latino community in Philadelphia and has a poverty rate of 61%. It was the fourth year buildOn students have run this event. Activities included face painting, baseball, bowling, arts and crafts. Some of buildOn’s board members and the bus driver participated in a spooky haunted house.

The celebration was at the American Revolution Center. Adult volunteers taught buildOn students some soul line dances, which re-energized the students after a long day of service.

Shakina Lewis (aka Kina the Prophetic Poet) kicked off the celebration with energetic and inspiring words about how amazing our students were for being unselfish and working in their communities despite the struggles they face daily from home, teachers, parents, and themselves. She spoke about the importance of surrounding yourself with positive people and stressed that amazing things are not done alone, and then she recited a poem.

Maeve O’Hara, buildOn advisor at Bodine High School, gave a heartfelt speech about how much 1 Million Hours and 500 schools meant to her and how the students and advisors and staff are a part of this accomplishment.

Southwest Connecticut

Cesar A. Batalla School in Bridgeport, Conn.
Students doing service: 52

buildOn worked with elementary school students, planting a community garden with 20 vegetable beds. They partnered with Green Village Initiative, a local nonprofit working to bring environmental change through local action. buildOn members used shovels to carry dirt and wheel barrels to carry garden tools, distributed mulch, planted vegetables, and cleaned up school grounds by picking up garbage.

“Today meant a lot to me because we worked side-by-side with elementary school students. We got to teach them about healthy living and they know now they can choose to get celery instead of a bag of chips,” said Javell Watson, buildOn member at Central High School.

Taylor Farm Park in Norwalk, Conn.
Students doing service: 40

buildOn members served children in Fairfield County by helping out with the Children’s Connection Kidzfest. Students were involved in everything from registration to hay rides to passing out food, and supervising the bean bag toss and balloon darts. They kept the energy and excitement going throughout the day.

Luis Munoz Marin School in Bridgeport, Conn.

Students doing service: 35
buildOn members ran the activities a the Harvest Festival for the residents of the East Side. Students painted faces, made masks, bracelets and other crafts with kids, and ran the board game station, potato sack races, horseshoes and the sports area. buildOn students split into teams to play baseball with the kids.

After the festival, Lydia Martinez, an East Side council woman, said she was glad she was part of the event because it provided a wholesome outlet for the community, which suffered a lot of gang violence this summer. “I did not think it would turn out this well but this community needed this,” Martinez said. Some of those attendees in the community included a family buildOn worked with at the YMCA shelter that had recently moved into a house in the neighborhood.

Stamford Boys and Girls Club in Stamford, Conn.
Students doing service: 40

Students ran the Boys and Girls Club Fall Fair for by working 15 booths, including bobbing for apples, basketball free throws, and the Wii station. About 70 children from the Boys and Girls Club were present, along with members of the community, including Stamford Board of Education member Lorraine Olson. Students were in charge of running the games and distributing tickets for prizes, and then cleaning up afterward.

Approximately 170 people attended the celebration at The Watermark, including buildOn’s Connecticut board members Andrea Valerio, Craig Eckstrom, and Terry Torok.

Eckstrom spoke about the impact of 1 million hours of service and the important role our students played in that accomplishment. He also spoke about Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl who was targeted by the Taliban for standing up for women’s education. He explained how she represents what buildOn is all about: young people making a stand and understanding the importance of education.


Leadership High School, San Francisco, CA
Students doing service: 37

There were several activities happening at Leadership High School. Before starting, the principal of the school, Anita Sufi, began with a personal story about how service made an impact on her life. The students picked up trash, creating a social responsibility and a chalk mural, and repainted all of the benches in the school’s courtyard. Students painted a mock tree made out of wood to commemorate unity, solidarity and stewardship at the school. The tree is going to be put in the hallway of the high school. While creating it, the group had a discussion about what social responsibility meant to them, and described it as being welcoming, giving back, helping people you don’t know and being positive.

University Mound Ladies Home, San Francisco, Calif.
Students doing service: 14

Students worked in partners or small teams with the senior residents at the University Mound Ladies Home. Together they completed “Books of Hope,” which involves printing Haitian proverbs in both English and Creole and then illustrating the pages. Many of the residents have experienced a loss in their ability to write or draw, but the members did an incredible job encouraging them to try their best.

The students learned about the residents’ families, travels, education, careers and hobbies. Some valuable advice was passed on to our students through this experience! The students and residents completed a handful of books that buildOn Bay Area members will take to Haiti this spring and present to a local village.

“It was cool making the books with the seniors, but what I enjoyed most was the conversation,” said Giovanna Leon, a senior at International Studies Academy. “The woman I was working with told me about her career. She was the first employee at a grocery store that opened in her neighborhood. It started as a very small, local store and is now a huge company in the United States.”

San Francisco Food Bank

Students doing service: 40
Students and five buildOn donors from Moss Adams packed enough food for seniors to eat for at least two weeks. The students and volunteers packed up boxes of food — such as cereal, canned vegetables and pasta — for seniors in the San Francisco community. Some people opened up the large boxes and put away plastic, some put the items on the conveyor belt, others packed the items into smaller boxes, and the last group sealed and put away the boxes to be delivered.

Rebuilding Together, Oakland, Calif.
Students doing service: 44

buildOn members broke into small groups and planted 15 large trees along sidewalks, on street corners and beautified a neighborhood in Oakland with local residents. The whole neighborhood chipped in to make their neighborhood a little greener. One neighbor was so moved by buildOn’s efforts that he offered to buy 40 students doughnuts at a local bakery to show his appreciation. The group told the man to send the money to buildOn to help build a school in a developing country.


The speakers of the evening were Dolores Gould, St. Anthony’s Foundation Outreach and Engagement Coordinator; Margaret Chui, Assistant Superintendent of San Francisco United School District and a member of buildOn’s West Coast Board of Directors; and Jorge Gomez, a senior at Skyline High School.

Gould spoke about how many people look at our communities as a “glass half full or empty,” but that we need to start looking at it as a place for opportunity. She recalled the small group of people standing outside City Hall at the Hope Rally when all of a sudden a sea of buildOn students with banners and messages of hope came marching around the corner. She remembers that moment as a true reflection of the hope that exists in this next generation of young leaders.

During the presentation of the buildOn videos about life in Haiti and completing 1 million hours of service, the room was silent. “Watching these videos makes me proud; not just to be a buildOn student in my community but to be a part of something that is working around the country, and even around the world, to make a positive difference.” said Alex Faynleb, a senior at Mission High School.

The video above is what life is like in the village of St. Hilaire, Haiti and the importance of having an education. Watch this video about what 1 Million Hours of Service means to our students, and view more photos from our event here. Learn how you can get involved with buildOn here.