buildOn Launches in Boston!

Tessyia Roper always wanted to make a positive impact on her community but never knew how. That changed when she started participating in weekly service activities with buildOn, quickly becoming the first student in buildOn’s Boston program to complete over 25 volunteer service hours.

Boston, the birthplace of public education in the United States, is also home to buildOn’s newest Youth Service Program. The program launched this school year at the Community Academy for Science and Health (CASH) in Dorchester, Massachusetts, where Tessyia is a junior.


Tessyia Roper is the first buildOn Boston student to complete 25 hours of service.

Tessyia has  volunteered to help families transitioning out of homelessness, tutored elementary school students and participated in a walk against breast cancer. She now sees how service can give young people a chance to care about local issues and is excited for community members to see the role youth play in transforming their communities from the inside out.

“There’s trash around, there is too much violence around, there are policeman standing everywhere,” she says about the challenges in her neighborhood. “You step outside of the school, even knowing there are people to protect you, but you still get scared.”

Dorchester and Roxbury, the neighborhoods where most CASH students live, have the highest childhood poverty rates in all of Boston (40% compared with 15% for all of Massachusetts), and 72% of CASH students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Violent crime is also a major issue in the area. According to the most recent Boston Youth Survey, 69 percent said that they witnessed violence in the past year. Since mid-October, there have been 2 stabbing murders in the area of CASH and a bag of guns and ammo was found in an abandoned parking lot. Facing the daunting pressures of violence and poverty, it’s not surprising that only 57% of CASH students graduate.


Boston Public Schools and Boston students officially welcomed buildOn to the city at a ribbon cutting ceremony in October.

Now, through buildOn, students in Boston can see the power community action can have in their neighborhoods. They can better value educational opportunities while breaking down stereotypes, such as the perception that young people are selfish, disengaged troublemakers.

“We are not doing service for anything other than out of the goodness of our hearts. I personally think when people see that they will see that it is good and be happy for what we are doing,” Tessyia says.

A partnership between buildOn and Boston Public Schools first kicked off in 2011 when a group of volunteers formed buildOn’s Boston Chapter and began raising money to send BPS students to construct schools in developing countries. Since that time, students from three Boston schools have traveled to construct five schools in Malawi and Senegal. Through this effort, these volunteers galvanized enough local support to further sustain a full-scale youth service program in Boston.

“The launch of buildOn in Boston has been one of the fastest I’ve seen in my long history with the organization, and it’s velocity is only accelerating!” says Allan Hackney, member of the Boston Chapter.  “This can only be explained by the close collaboration of our inspiring and caring teachers and amazing volunteers, enthusiastically supported by the Superintendent’s office and our generous sponsors. buildOn is truly a movement in Boston!”


Members of the buildOn Boston Chapter and Boston Public Schools students building a school in Africa.

“For the last three years we have partnered with buildOn’s international school building program to help our students become true global citizens. We are thrilled that our partnership with buildOn is expanding to include programs inside the United States. This expansion allows us to reach even more BPS students and engage them as leaders through service to communities here in Boston, around the nation, and around the world,” Interim Superintendent John McDonough says.

The official program launch was celebrated on October 21 with a ribbon cutting ceremony at CASH. Boston marks the first regional expansion of buildOn’s United States programming since Chicago programs launched in 2005 and creates further opportunities for high schoolers to enact change in their own communities and beyond.