How High Schoolers Create Meaningful Change Through Service

Thousands of high schoolers are making an impact every day through buildOn’s service learning programs. They learn to see themselves as the solution, rather than the problem, to challenges facing their neighborhoods. They transform their schools, cities and our world by making a positive difference in the lives of others.

What Makes Service Learning Unique 

buildOn students do more than just volunteer. They also combine meaningful service with in-the-classroom instruction and reflection.

Participants identify issues and think about the best ways to make the greatest impact. They make a plan to perform direct or indirect service around a topic. Then they take action – like serving meals at a shelter to help the homeless or making posters to raise awareness about women’s rights. Students learn about topics such as violence, youth engagement, education, hunger and poverty and connect the service they do to these wider issues. They look at how this topics impact their local community and buildOn partner countries and find ways to show the impact of their service learning experience to others.

See Service Learning in Action


Breaking down stigmabuildOn students participated in a month of service learning focused on HIV and AIDS in December 2014. This was possible thanks to a generous grant from the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. Students worked together to identify ways to break down stigma and raise awareness. For example, buildOn at Banana Kelly High School in the Bronx, New York, hosted a school-wide health fair. The fair focused on nutrition, physical fitness and HIV/AIDS. Students also created a bulletin board for the Morris Heights Health Clinic with HIV/AIDS facts to share what they learned with the community. Similar projects took place at buildOn programs across the United States and 2,833 buildOn students completed 4,430 combined hours of service around HIV/AIDS.

buildOn student Christpher Tavarez learned that sharing information makes it easy understand people from different backgrounds, like those affected by HIV/AIDS.

“With the knowledge we spread, we break the stigma and break the worry that great friendships [with them] are not possible,” he says.

Thinking about Homelessness at Home and Abroad: ???? HIGHLIGHT BUILDON COOKOFF IN CT

Enhancing Access to Education: Every year, students travel with buildOn to break ground on new school structures in developing countries. These communities have had little or no access to a quality structure for students to learn in. As part of this experience, the students immerse themselves in the culture by living with host families. They forge meaningful relationships by working together with the parents whose children will attend the school.

“One of the things I remember most was when we first arrived in the village. You see so many people welcoming you. I think that was just so amazing to have people who speak a different language allow you into their homes and around their children. It really felt like a family to me,” buildOn student Khya Brownlee says.

Khya is a student at International Studies Academy in San Francisco. She went on Trek to Burkina Faso last year.

Upon returning home, students reflect on the experience and share what they have learned with their peers. They recognize the power they have to make their world a better place for themselves and others.