Season for Service: Holiday Service Spotlight

Even as schools wind down for winter vacation, thousands of buildOn students across the country are not taking a break from serving their communities. Here is a look at just a few of the holiday-themed service activities that our students have organized this Season for Service.


Derek Seang is senior at Furness High School in Philadelphia and a budding fashion designer. At his school, buildOn runs a Gift of Life club that brings awareness to organ donation through various activities. They also cook meals at the Gift of Life House each month for people receiving organ donations and their families.  When the students decided to make stuffed animals as holiday gifts for the center’s residents, Derek opted to combine his knack for design, interest in fashion, and passion for service to create his own teddy bears. He developed his own pattern and design for the bears (pictured above) and stitched them together over the weekend.

“I feel as though I was put on this earth to make things beautiful. Making bear for the Gift of Life center was something I was passionate about. I’m a caring person and I like to make each day brighter for people,” Derek said. ” I like that I can use creativity to make artwork for others and give back to my community.”

The stuffed animals were delivered to the Gift of Life residents last Wednesday along with many more made by buildOn students at Furness.


Students from all three buildOn programs in Bridgeport, Connecticut spent an evening at The Watermark, a retirement community. They decorated the space, sang carols and organized games and other activities such as a photo booth, playing board games and dancing. All residents were welcomed to join the buildOn students for the holiday celebration. Anthony Mellow-Valle, a junior at Central High School, led a salsa dancing lesson for all attendees.

“Service is a great way to give back and be kind to one another. I was raised by a single mother who, when I was growing up, always taught me to be openhearted and to give to others,” Anthony said. “My favorite part was seeing all the happy faces – not just the elderly, but the staff at the Watermark, buildOn staff and my fellow students. At first I felt nervous leading the group but as soon as I got on stage I felt comfortable because I dance, that’s what I do.”


Magic After-School Place is a service partner in Chicago where students from Carl Schurz High School volunteer every Monday and Tuesday. The high school students help elementary schoolers in grades kindergarten through six with homework. They also run centers where students learn new skills such as playing a sport, baking or drawing. This week, the buildOn students celebrated the holidays with students through a variety of holiday activities such as gingerbread house decorating and gift giving.

And, these students have nothing but good things to stay about the experience. Jovanny Hernandez, a ninth grader at Schurz, has enjoyed getting involved with buildOn this year. “I feel like it’s the place where I belong and it’s a place where you change the world,” he said.

Ninth grader Vanessa Blas added her own thoughts, specifically about volunteering with Magic After-School Place.

“I enjoy working with little kids because I get to remind myself on how I was once little and I get to recall that I may have once experienced what they are experiencing. I enjoy the fact that we can talk and get to know one another,” she said.

Banana Kelly Fashion Show

At Banana Kelly High School in the Bronx, New York, students came together for buildOn’s student-run “Give 2 Glow” Fashion Show & Clothing Drive. Students from Banana Kelly and the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice worked with Modavive, a buildOn supporter and socially conscious e-commerce company, to put on the event.

“This fashion show is to raise awareness about homelessness in the countries where we build schools and here in the United States and New York City,” said buildOn student and Banana Kelly senior Rahni Davis in her introduction.

Rahni brought her idea for the fashion show to her program coordinators and worked closely with them to organize the show. Students and friends from buildOn schools across the Bronx and Brooklyn attended and more than fifteen students participated as models. For their final look, the students adapted buildOn tshirts, making tasteful additions like rhinestones to personalize the look. But what was perhaps the most striking addition were facts about global homelessness in buildOn partner countries and communities as another reminder of the purpose of the event.

After the show, co-emcee and buildOn Program Coordinator Allison Gordon reminded the students that they had boxes of clothing and contributions left to organize. All clothing collected at the schools and the event were donated to four local organizations: The Bowery Mission, PATH-Family Intake Center, Bronxworks, Inc., and Mercy Center (Family Center).

“The show is over, but now is when the real work begins,” she said. “We have to go distribute these clothes.”

Photographs contribute by buildOn Program Coordinator Crystal Collins (Philadelphia), photographer Benjamin Jarosch (Connecticut), photographer Donna Guerreros (New York), and buildOn Program Manager Francisco Ramirez (Chicago).