Global Citizen Year Profile: buildOn Leader Grows After School Program From 20 to 200

Yesterday you read about Kimberly Reed, a buildOn Philadelphia member who is going to Ecuador for Global Citizen Year. Today we’re profiling Madelaine Guss, another amazing student who will be spending her Global Citizen gap year in Senegal.

Growing the buildOn Program

Madelaine Guss, a recent graduate of Lower Merion High School, is a dedicated member who helped grow her buildOn afterschool program from around 20 members to over 200! Her biggest contribution was developing the Global Education program. She identified that her program wasn’t doing enough, so she created an additional club that met twice a month. She educated her peers through several activities, including a candle-lighting ceremony for victims of human trafficking, passing out red ribbons for HIV/AIDs awareness, and making a Jeopardy game about Haiti.

“Maddie is a huge part of the reason why buildOn at Lower Merion has become so successful,” said Guss’s buildOn Advisor, Tom Reed, who teaches ninth grade Social Studies at Lower Merion High School.  Guss was responsible for telling people about buildOn and getting them to attend meetings. After becoming an officer her sophomore year, she played a big role in the decision-making for the club. “She’s compassionate, really genuine and when she does something, it comes from the heart. She’s a role model to others, which is a big part of why people look to her as a leader.”

Being a Leader

Reed witnessed Guss’s leadership shills during an Ambassador Trek to Haiti he organized this summer. Guss, who went to Malawi with her high school’s buildOn group during her sophomore year, was invited on the trip to be a source of information to the other students of the Lower Merion Chapter, a separate buildOn entity with members from the region. “We would meet and talk about how things were going throughout trek, and if I had any concerns that needed to be addressed, she just took charge,” Reed said. There was a student on the trip who was homesick, but after Maddie consoled her, she was able to enjoy the rest of her trip.

Changing Perspective

Going to Malawi and Haiti taught Guss that she could connect to other people in a way she hadn’t in the United States. Despite the fact she and the villagers had different tastes and interests, they had a lot of things in common. “Everyone was very genuine and friendly. They would stop you on the street and ask how you were. It’s so different from what you experience in American culture. They sit and talk and focus on the conversations. In the US, we can be distracted and thinking of other things, so it’s half-hearted.”

She also returned valuing the price of education. “I understand my environment and what an advantage it is. There are people who don’t have access to education at all, and seeing these students so excited about the new school building made me realize just how exciting education is.”