buildOn Chicago Student Omar Arroyo – Why We Can’t Wait

On May 26th, 2021, buildOn hosted a virtual event featuring buildOn Chicago students, corporate leaders, artists, and supporters. At this special event, buildOn Chicago student, Omar Arroyo shared his love for the city of Chicago, his experience doing service during a pandemic and Why We Can’t Wait to rebuild a better Chicago.


“I’m Omar, and I am a junior at Schurz High School and I love Chicago.

I know the Chicago community is huge but if you take the time, you can find hidden gems everywhere in each neighborhood. By doing service with buildOn, I got to know my city more and experience all the different people and places in the Chicago community. Chicago is a magical place to live. 

But with magic comes illusions — there are some things about Chicago that I would like to change If I were given a magic wand. Some of those things that need to be addressed in this city is the violence, access to affordable housing and how we care for people who are experiencing homelessness. Also the litter — Chicago is a beautiful place and I don’t want it to be overrun with trash. Through service with buildOn, I get to address these issues and help transform the place that I love. And I also get to meet and help people who are part of the community that I wouldn’t normally know about, like the elderly at the senior centers. I always look forward to playing bingo or doing Yoga with them during service. 

When the pandemic hit, the streets of Chicago were mostly empty, and everyone was afraid — afraid of one another and afraid of how our lives would change. Being in quarantine and not seeing my friends, teachers and other family members was tough. And then I realized that if I was feeling this way, I couldn’t imagine how hard this experience must be for an elderly person living in isolation at a senior center. I didn’t want anyone to feel like their own room or house was like a prison cell. 

Through buildOn, I was assigned a senior buddy, Ms. Betty Hall, who I would call every Monday. We would talk about our days and what we wanted to do when the pandemic ended. I would look forward to this call every week because I get to connect and learn from my senior buddy. During our conversations, she would give me so much great life advice — like to never be so hard on myself when things go wrong and that things happen for a reason just to test how strong we are. She helped me reflect on things in a way that I didn’t before. 

This entire experience surprised me! When I first signed up for a senior buddy, I really wanted to help someone else not feel alone.  Then I met my senior buddy and through the amazing conversations that I had with her, she made me not feel alone too. That’s something I’ve really appreciated about buildOn this past year: while a lot of the community was closed off from each other, doing service kept students like me feeling connected and supported. Service helped keep the community together.

Now that we’re able to do more things in person, it’s more important that we come together as  a community and help each other. I see the city that I love coming back to life again, Chicagoans out and about, and communities rebuilding. I am very excited to get out there, to explore, and to serve in person again!  I can’t wait to connect in person with Mrs. Betty Hall, my senior buddy; to serve the homeless; and to provide food to people experiencing food insecurity. 

Because if we’re going to rebuild a better Chicago, we need to rebuild a community that is inclusive of everyone and serves everyone — even the most vulnerable.  I hope you’ll join buildOn students like me in building a better Chicago.”