Before Eddie Vega joined buildOn things had not been going well for this high school senior. He was not particularly interested in school and was struggling academically. And, though he would rather not elaborate, he was also being pressured by some of his friends to do things that could get him into trouble. Once his mom started getting tired of arguing with him, Eddie realized it was time to make a change.
That’s right about when Joel started encouraging Eddie to join buildOn. Eddie attended a service project and found that volunteering came naturally. It’s also hard to get into trouble when you’re busy with buildOn all of the time. And though he first thought service would be “whack,” he has already completed over 70 volunteer hours since joining buildOn in the late fall.
In December, Eddie volunteered at the Watermark, a senior living community in Bridgeport. He met one of the residents and learned that he had once graduated from Bassick. This man had dropped out of school for two years before going back and eventually going on to become a successful businessman.
“I didn’t drop out, but I barely was coming to school,” Eddie said. “He made me want to do something better for myself. The way he talked about school made me feel like I wanted to go to school more. [He told me] to stay focused, to ignore the negative stuff and to never let anything bring me down.”
As the man talked, he explained to Eddie that he had worked for Remington Arms when the company was still operating in Bridgeport. Though the company left Bridgeport in the late-80s, the factory was once of the largest munitions factories in the world.
“[This man] was working as the president or something and became a big leader. School helped him get on track,” Eddie remembers. “He told me that, in the end, education really is important. You can’t go anywhere without it.”
It was a short conversation, but an impactful one, especially because it was also the first time that Eddie had volunteered with the elderly. He has not spent much time with senior citizens before. Just a few months early, he had seen his grandparents for the first time in over a decade. They had last been together when Eddie moved to Bridgeport from Mexico eleven years earlier.
It has been hard to not have a strong family network in Bridgeport, Eddie adds. Growing up, Eddie was also close with his father’s brother. Eddie never met his father so this relationship was especially important and he’s struggled since his uncle passed away four years ago.
“When I got the news [that he passed away], I never really talked to my mom about it since my mom and my father’s side don’t get along. Over the past few years I was very low because of this,” he says.
Thanks to service and the community he has found through buildOn, Eddie has worked hard to to be more open to other people. A note to self, he adds, is that there are people who will care about you as long as you let them. “After I joined buildOn, the depression and feeling lonely went away. I just started being myself little by little,” he says.
He is hoping to graduate with good grades this year and is working on staying positive and focused while he figures out his next steps. He’s thinking of taking some time off after graduating to get a job and save money before enrolling in a local culinary school.
Whatever he decides, he’s sure to remember the lessons he’s gained this year.
“It’s not always all about yourself. It’s what you do with and for others.”