Celebrating Service, Education and Leadership at the buildOn Gala

On November 19th, members of the buildOn Movement from all over the world came together for our annual buildOn Gala. This year’s event looked a little bit different, with guests celebrating with us online from home, but a record-breaking number of people got to come together to celebrate service and education with us! All together, the buildOn Gala and Jim Parke campaign that led up to it raised more than $2.8 million to support buildOn programs.

The event kicked off with a soulful musical performance from chart-topping songwriter Michael Franti, setting up a warm welcome from our hosts, buildOn CRO Marc Friedman and Ana Valdes, a buildon student from Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice. They addressed how buildOn continues our mission to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations during these challenging times.

“I believe that now more than ever, we need young leaders who have courage and resilience, who lead with empathy and solidarity, and have a passion for what’s possible.”

Ana Valdes, buildOn Bronx Student and Gala Co-Host

The next buildOn student to share her story was Mekaylia Ingram, a buildOn student from Bridgeport, CT, who spoke to buildOn’s programming and mentorship, how it has guided her during challenging times and how it shaped her as a leader. 

“Every individual has the power to make a difference and there is strength in service, it is critical we act and work together in solidarity,” – Mekaylia said.

An engaging conversation followed between buildOn National Board Member and Fortune CEO Alan Murray and Rassan Parris, a teacher at buildOn partner school The School for Tourism and Hospitality in the Bronx. Both have spent plenty of time with buildOn students, and they shared important insights into how service creates strong leaders.

After thanking the buildOn Partners who make our work possible, Marc and Ana welcomed the Detroit Youth Choir, who gave a high energy and inspiring performance. 

The buildOn Gala gave us the opportunity to award buildOn’s highest honor — The Jim Parke Constructive Leadership Award — to two outstanding buildOn students. During one of the most crucial moments in buildOn’s early history, the late Jim Parke saw what was possible through service and stepped up to help buildOn’s mission thrive, forging a partnership between buildOn and GE that’s lasted nearly thirty years. The two students presented this year’s award by buildOn Founder and CEO Jim Ziolkowski and buildOn U.S. Chief Program Officer Kayla Hunter exemplify Jim Parke’s passion for the possible: Elizabeth Fortress from Boston and Cameron Townsend from Detroit

As I reflect back on Jim and his clear-eyed, steady leadership, I think about how he never gave up on buildOn and I think about his passion for the possible. He could see the vision, long before anyone else could. so it is an immense honor and privilege to dedicate this award to Jim Parke.

buildOn Founder and CEO Jim Ziolkowski

Guests then spent time in breakout rooms networking and enjoying conversations on topics of service, leadership and the value of education before hearing from Jim Z. Jim shared the inspiring story of Barbara, a buildOn student who has overcome huge personal challenges to serve others, including becoming the first buildOn student to build a school while using a wheelchair.

Next, it was time for more music and celebration as triple-platinum singer/songwriter and buildOn supporter Andy Grammer performed his hit song “Don’t Give Up On Me”.

Alan Murray joined us once again, this time with PayPal President and CEO Dan Schulman, who reflected on the value of serving with buildOn and shared insights on why it’s important to lead by bringing compassion to business and the positive role that businesses can play in the community.

The last storyteller of the night was Assane Ngom, buildOn’s Country Director in Senegal. Assane shared his gratitude for the buildOn supporters who have continued to fund school construction, even as Trek service trips have stopped during the COVID pandemic. He shared an inspiring story of Thierno, a young Senegalese boy whose life was transformed when a buildOn school was built in his village, as an example of why we can’t give up now.

Michael Franti brought his guitar out again to send us off dancing, after Marc and Ana thanked everyone who made the buildOn gala a success, especially our corporate partners:

NATIONAL PARTNERS: EY, GE, JP Morgan, KPMG, Mobile Beacon, NACEPF, PwC, Rodan + Fields, Salesforce, Synchrony

$50,000 PARTNERS: Bank of America, Blaylock Van, Citi, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, LinkedIn and, Friends, McKinsey, Morgan Stanley, NBCU, Pitney Bowes

SUPPORTING PARTNERS: Academy Securities, Alight Solutions, Attra, Barclays, BBVA, BCG, BlackRock, BNP Paribas, Castle Oak Securities, Client Services, Cognizant, Credit Agricole, Deloitte, Dina & David Spaidel, Discover, Drexel Hamilton, Dun & Bradstreet, Evercore, Experian, Fico, GenRe, Glenmede, Gong, GrubHub, HSBC, ING, Innovis, Interstate Printing, ITI Data, Japs-Olson, Lloyds Bank, MasterCard, Mischler Financial, MUFG, Ogletree, PayPal, R Seelaus & Co, RBC, Samuel A Ramirez & Co, Santander, Seibert Williams Shank, SMBC, State Street, TransUnion, UBS, United Healthcare, Vail, Verisk, Visa, VM Ware, Wells Fargo