A note from our CEO on COVID-19

Dear members of the buildOn movement,

From the beginning, buildOn’s mission has been centered on the principle of solidarity – bringing people together to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations through service and education. Together, buildOn students have contributed over 2.3M hours of service and touched the lives of more than 1.3M people living below the poverty line in America. Together, our students serve the most vulnerable among us. People with AIDS, people suffering from homelessness, young children from the toughest neighborhoods, neglected elders in care facilities, people that don’t have enough to eat, and more. And together with communities from the economically poorest countries on the planet, we have built 1,690 schools. Together our community members have contributed more than 3.0M volunteer workdays to build those schools so that 228,148 children, parents, and grandparents can go to school every day. This is what we mean by solidarity. Now more than any moment in my lifetime, this principle is being tested and threatened.

COVID-19 is dividing us, isolating us, pushing us apart as communities. It is a global pandemic that has completely altered the way we work. Our top priority is to ensure the safety and health of our team, our stakeholders, and the world. With coronavirus, that means that we have formed task forces that monitor the situation by the minute. In every U.S. city where we host our service-learning programs, schools have temporarily closed. Our team, like most across the U.S., are now working remotely from home. But we will not let COVID-19 divide us.

We have already begun to leverage the strength of our website, social media, video, and all digital platforms to strengthen the connection to our students and communities. In fact, we have made a commitment to reach out and connect with every buildOn student in every buildOn city every single day that the virus isolates our communities. Together with our students, we will find a way to continue to serve the most vulnerable among us.

Nearly 90% of our students relied on their schools for breakfast and lunch. Together we are creating forums to identify and share new sources of food security – for our students and the homeless people we were serving. Our students have already found ways to reach out to elders in nursing homes by making cards and phone calls. They are reaching out virtually to support health care and grocery store workers. And we will use our platforms to continue discussing the most challenging issues facing our communities and ways we can address them remotely. Together with our students, we will position ourselves to better serve our communities and meet the most critical needs, as soon as we can leave our homes.

Globally, we have suspended school building trips (Treks) for donors and students through May. Yet, we will continue to build schools with our in-country staff as long as it is safe. There are very few confirmed cases of coronavirus in many of the countries where we work, but we know this will change rapidly. To protect our team and the communities, we will refrain from holding mass meetings and limit the number of people on any worksite, to ten. We have also strengthened hygiene protocols and will not hesitate to shut down a worksite as the situation in each country changes.

Throughout this crisis, we will continue to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations through service and education. We will continue to engage the most vulnerable people in America and empower those being crushed by extreme poverty across the planet. Now more than ever, our students and communities need us. We will not let them down.

Starting this week, we will be sharing ways you can stay involved, support us, and serve with us – virtually, in solidarity. We hope you will join us because what the world needs now is more community, not less.

We built our first school in Africa at ground zero of the AIDS pandemic in 1992. Since then, we worked through the Ebola outbreak there and the Cholera epidemic in Haiti. We were there building schools after Category 5 Hurricanes, and we were there to help rebuild after the two worst earthquakes in recorded history. We have survived Al Qaeda terrorist attacks and worked through ten years of civil war in Nepal – building nearly 100 schools behind the Maoist lines of control.

COVID-19 will not divide us and will not break our solidarity. We are together, and we Never Give Up!

– Jim Ziolkowski, buildOn Founder & CEO