buildOn Salutes Fathers

In honor of Father’s Day, we asked our staff to share text and images that communicate how their fathers have influenced them and started them down the path to community outreach. A Happy Father’s Day to all, and please share your own memories in the comments!


My dad has always been involved in the community – doing everything from taking on projects and leadership roles to support the Boy Scouts, emceeing fundraisers for the local Salvation Army, and recruiting friends and community members to get involved with various causes. The most memorable project that my dad started over 25 years ago is called Santa Feeds the Kids. Every December he collects donations to purchase groceries for 20+ local families in partnership with a local children and family services agency. Then, a couple days before Christmas, he recruits friends and family from the community to do the grocery shopping early in the morning. It’s an inspiring experience to see 30-40 people come out at 6:30am to fill carts with groceries for families in need. And it definitely confirms the fact that one person’s idea can positively impact many, many lives. My dad’s investment in our community and big ideas for giving back have long been an inspiration to me – helping me better understand the difference that I can make in our world.

Abbe Ewell, Program Coordinator & Training Specialist


My Dad has truly made me who I am today. He is a rock solid, driven, creative, passionate man who has faced challenges and setbacks in his life and always viewed them as opportunities. He loves baking anything and everything (he made 9 pound cakes and 90 cupcakes for a party for me a few weeks ago!) and him and his wife make a sweet Georgia wine. His door is always open to the world and he is always ready for an adventure.

My dad is a man of very few words, but I still ask him questions all the time. One day we were talking and I asked him, “What is happiness?” And he said, “happiness is when I look in the mirror, and I can honestly say, I did a good thing today.”

Simple words, but they have always stuck with me and I think about them all the time. Over the past three years, in my work with buildOn, I feel lucky to be able to truly know that I am living his words everyday.

Missy Shields, New York Regional Manager


My Dad is the best for more reasons than I could ever list! He is always there for me and all of my brothers and sisters, whether we have to ask him how to cook Grandma’s famous Acini de Pepe or if we need his advice on buying a car or house. The only thing he does better than being a Dad is being a Grandpa to his favorite grandchild of all time, Miles!

– Tamsyn Ambler, Program Coordinator


My Dad has taught me so much over the years. He taught me to understand the importance of understanding the other parties’ perspective during conflict. In fact, I still call him when I need to talk through a difficult situation. But other than being my emotional rock he is also one of the funniest people I know. He once offered me a spoonful of vanilla ice-cream, it was only when I had the spoon in my mouth did I discover it was sour cream. He also sent me an empty carton of Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream when I was in Peace Corps Kiribati. Keep in mind I was on an island that was regularly hotter than 100 degrees. He is a jokester. He is my favorite person.

Danielle Gilbert, Program and Trek Coordinator


My Dad was the one who first introduced me to buildOn. He met Jim & Marc while he was at GE (worked there for 36 years!) and then slowly but surely our whole family got involved. My mom was a buildOn Co-Advisor at New Canaan H.S., my sister opened the buildOn office with Abby in CA, I was a volunteer for many years before joining full-time, my sister-in-law in Seattle is one of the Seattle Chapter Chairs and now all the women in my family are raising $ to go to Malawi to build a school in October. And it all started with my Dad!

Catarina Schwab, VP, West Coast


My father has a laugh that one can never forget and a heart that spans the cosmos. My dad can do anything — I have always thought so and I’m still convinced. Growing up he supported my feline adoption habit — I’m quite sure he only liked them because they made me happy. He made it so there was always time for the little things — the moments that make life worth living. He knows how to turn hard times into the best memories…and when it’s appropriate to have ice cream and popcorn for dinner.

My father is the source of my hope and compassion. He and my heart are one.

Kimmy Kunkle, Program Coordinator


My Dad has influenced me perhaps more than any other person in my life.  His open heart, willingness to empathize with others and deep love of humanity inspires me to continue to dedicate myself to the work we do here at buildOn.

When I was 12, my dad volunteered through our church to travel to rural El Salvador. The stories of struggle he was told by ordinary Salvadorans about what they had endured in their civil war humbled him. They wanted, and continue to want, the most basic of things – education, food for their families, health and safe communities. The love and openness that strangers showed my Dad when he visited really touched his heart. I have a vivid memory of sitting in Sunday mass next to my father after he returned from El Salvador and seeing him break down. I think it was the only time I had ever witnessed him cry. I saw the frustration and sadness in him, knowing he could do so little to alleviate others’ pain.

Erika Robers, Program Coordinator


In 2008 I bought my first house. Little did I know that said house had been infested with termites and the damage had been covered up to pass inspection. In short I planned to remodel the kitchen and that turned into gutting the entire house down to the brick. My dad moved to Chicago for a year and helped physically rebuild the whole darn house from top to bottom. In that year I got to spend more quality time with him than any time in my whole life. That one termite infested, rat hole of a money pit was the reason I got re-introduced to my dad, and learned more about him and myself than I ever would have otherwise. Thanks Dad!  Thanks for coming to save the day, and for being an all around great dad.

J. Quinton Snodgrass, VP, Midwest


My dad loves to cook and eat. Growing up he would travel to foreign countries for work and he would come back with full rolls of film, not of amazing sites and cultural landmarks, but of the new foods he got to try. I’ve learned so much from my dad. He taught me that food is one of the great joys in life and that I should be open to new experiences. I always think of him when I’m overseas with buildOn trying exciting new foods like guinea hen, T’oh, sesame candy, and so much more. After a 30+ year career as a chemist he went back to school to earn his culinary degree, so he’s taught me to follow my dreams as well as food.

Joanna Branch, Philadelphia Regional Manager


Giving back to the community has always been a key family value in the DeMichiel-Madson household. As a toddler growing up in Minneapolis, my dad took me to visit homebound elders during the holidays through a non-profit called Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly.

Shortly after joining buildOn, two students presented a powerpoint about their Trek for Knowledge experience in Mali. I thought to myself, “How cool that they went to Africa and built a school! I could never do that.” I was born with a neurological disorder called cerebral palsy which affects the muscle function in my legs. Since I walk with crutches, I was certain that my physical challenges and the desert like conditions of Mali wouldn’t mix well. But my dad, being the supportive man that he is, told me to go for it without hesitation.

I went on Trek in June of 2008, and the experience definitely deepened my commitment to the buildOn mission. My dad has also given me numerous late night pep talks about the challenges of starting a buildOn chapter from the ground up, edited many fundraising letters, and listened to me rehearse my buildOn gala speeches until they were perfect. I owe my passion for helping others to the values my dad instilled in me at a very age. Thank you dad, for believing in me when I couldn’t believe in myself.

Antonia DeMichiel, buildOn Alum,

buildOn Chapter Leader at University of Oregon