buildOn Gala Celebrates 25 Years of Service and Education!

This Thursday, more than 900 buildOn citizens came together at the iconic Waldorf Astoria to celebrate the impact of buildOn in the United States and around the world over the past 25 years. The celebration raised $3.4 million to support buildOn’s mission of breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education.

buildOn Founder and CEO Jim Ziolkowski kicked off the evening with a look back at two-and-a-half decades of breaking the cycle and shared inspiring stories of buildOn students empowered by service and education. His remarks also included a look forward to buildOn’s vision for the next 25 years: to raise graduation rates by 50% in every buildOn partner city in the U.S. and ensure that every child in each buildOn partner country will have a seat in a school.



buildOn Alumna Rayia Gaddy followed and shared her inspiring story of overcoming tragedy to build an accomplished life of service. “buildOn has ignited the flame of hope, inspiration, resiliency, passion and drive that has helped me overcome the barriers and challenges in my life,” Rayia told the guests in attendance.



The evening’s fundraising appeal brought in more than $660,000 with a significant boost from a buildOn supporters Britta and Denis Nayden, who matched many attendees’ gifts, and a $100,000 donation from the Prescription for Change Foundation, announced by Rodan + Fields Chairman Amnon Rodan.

Following dinner, CEO Jim Ziolkowski returned to the stage with Chief Revenue Officer and Gala emcee Marc Friedman to honor General Electric for their unwavering loyalty and steadfast support of buildOn’s mission over the past 25 years. buildOn recently dedicated our 1,000th school to GE, and the Gala guests were treated to a look at the inauguration of this milestone school in Senegal.



The evening also included remarks from buildOn Service Learning Coordinator and buildOn alumnus Braulio Acuria who shared how service took him from the Bronx, to Malawi and back to New York City, where he is empowering a new generation of youth to serve. “My story is just one of thousands of buildOn stories,” Braulio said. “Working for buildOn has reinforced what I learned first-hand: that service changes lives.”



The Gala served as the public launch of buildOn’s Expect More Campaign, which will fund the first part of buildOn’s 25 year vision. The campaign aims to raise $15 million for buildOn’s U.S. Service Learning and Global School Construction programs, and through the initial silent phase has already raised $9 million. The campaign’s initial success has been led by longtime buildOn supporters Britta and Denis Nayden, Marilyn and Jim Parke, and Janet and Keith Sherin, who were all recognized on stage.



Gala emcee Marc Friedman brought the evening to a close joined on stage by hundreds of buildOn students: “On behalf of the tens of thousands of youth we will reach – thank you! One behalf of the hundreds of thousands of kids in the developing world who will soon have a seat in a school – thank you! On behalf of the generations of people who will soon be lifted out of extreme poverty – thank you for always believing in our youth!”



buildOn Founder & CEO Jim Ziolkowski concluded the evening by leading the students and Gala guests in a heartfelt cheer of “WE ARE BUILDON!” as thousands of balloons dropped from the ceiling of the Waldorf Astoria’s ballroom and this epic evening came to a close.

The 2016 buildOn Gala would not have been possible without the support of everyone in attendance and sponsorship of GE, Jones Day, Ogilvy & Mather, Rodan + Fields, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Kiernan Herner LLP, KPMG, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and Synchrony Financial.

Photos: Getty Images