Celebrating Jim Parke

buildOn Founder & CEO Jim Ziolkowski reflects on the passing of Jim Parke, a founding leader of the buildOn Movement. As CFO of GE Capital, Jim Parke was one of the earliest supporters of buildOn, playing a crucial role in helping the organization get off the ground. He remained a passionate force in the buildOn Movement until the end.

As many of you may know, Jim Parke passed away last week after fighting stage four lung cancer for nearly 18 months. I’ve been in Haiti for the last couple weeks and just returned last night, but I heard the news and was able to talk to his wife Marilyn a few hours after he passed. Jim died in his sleep and he was at peace.

I was able to spend a couple of days with Jim in South Carolina just before I went to Haiti and while there, Marilyn asked if I’d like to say a prayer with him. I did and mine was a prayer of gratitude. I explained to Jim and Marilyn, that six months after I left GE to start buildOn, there was a very desperate period when it was much more likely that we would fail then it was that we’d succeed. We faced immense rejection from every prospective donor and struggled to answer legitimate questions about our ability to do what we said we would do. We began to believe we would fail and it almost became self-fulfilling.

I was at rock bottom when I turned to God and prayed. It was a desperate prayer and said over many sleepless nights. God heard my prayers and sent Jim Parke. The rest is history.

He joined our board of directors a few months later and I’m sure we would not be doing what we are doing if Jim didn’t take a chance on us all those years ago. But that was only the beginning. He has been on our board for the last twenty-seven years and has been a guiding force behind our mission. He helped us to align resources and focus on results. He guided us through the great recession, rallied GE behind the cause and pushed the board to elevate expectations. His leadership over the last twenty-seven years has been absolutely crucial to our growth.

And so my final words with Jim were a prayer. Thanking God for sending him into my life and inspiring him to help lift up buildOn.

The day before Jim died I met with the principal of a blown out dilapidated school in the village of Delva, down in Haiti. Her name is Marjorie and their village had been completely wiped out by Hurricane Matthew 15 months ago and they still have not been able to rebuild. She said, “We thought it was the end of the world. Total destruction”. Marjorie explained that the roads were demolished so they were stranded and all they could do was pray. She said that everyone prayed every day for many months. Then she said. “and God heard our prayers and sent buildOn”. Those were her exact words and the same words I had said to Jim a few weeks before. I told her about Jim and that we would not be here without him. We both became emotional and prayed for Jim.

Before I left, the whole community gathered and I explained that Jim had passed away. I told them that he believed in us before we believed in ourselves and that he became the greatest mentor I have ever had. More importantly, Jim Parke was the Godfather of buildOn He gave us the courage to keep going—to never give up. Then I asked if we could dedicate the school in Delva to Jim. Another emotional moment. The entire village erupted and said it would be their greatest honor.

May God bless Jim Parke forever.

Kindest regards,

Left to Right: Jim Parke, buildOn Founder Jim Ziolkowski, and CRO Marc Friedman attend the first buildOn Gala in Stamford, Connecticut in 1992. The event raised enough money to keep the young organization afloat.

Left to Right: Jim Ziolkowski, Jim Parke, Jeff Bornstien, and Marc Friedman buildOn’s 25th Anniversary Gala in 2016 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.