Leaders From the Field: buildOn Students in Philadelphia Discover the City and Themselves
By Abby Hurst, Vice President of U.S. Programs
If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.
– Maya Angelou
Adolescence is a natural time for young people to spread their wings and explore their nascent independence. Unfortunately, however, there isn’t a roadmap for this kind of exploration, and high school students often don’t know where to begin — some teens don’t even know how to navigate their own cities when they join buildOn’s afterschool youth service program.
[pullquote]Some teens don’t even know how to navigate their own cities when they join buildOn’s afterschool program.[/pullquote]
“Before buildOn, my world was my neighborhood in southwest Philly and my school,” says student Gina Dukes, who started with our program 2 years ago. “But now I know west Philly, where I do a lot of volunteering, and north Philly, where I work with little kids. I know how to get around more. I feel more connected to the different neighborhoods.”
Learning how to successfully go from the north side to the south side is, of course, one of the easy parts of growing up, but I’ve discovered that as our students broaden their geographic perspective, their comfort zones and confidence often expand with it. Gina adds, “In every community, despite differences, people want a good neighborhood –where there isn’t violence and where students are doing well in school.” In times of confusion, our mutual vision for a better future is often what unites us – and what encourages personal development as well.
[pullquote]”In every community, despite differences, people want a good neighborhood –where there isn’t violence and where students are doing well in school.”[/pullquote]
buildOn strives to help its members navigate not only their cities but their lives. Students learn about helping people regardless of what neighborhood is in need — and in doing so they learn what activities build their self-esteem. They learn about their strengths, develop communication and interpersonal skills, and, naturally, gain self-confidence.
“buildOn opened my world,” Gina continues. “I knew there were problems, but I didn’t know I could do anything about them.” Student Nikhal James, who enjoys “working with kids,” adds that “If you can make people laugh and play ball with the kids, you can make a good moment in their lives.” And as our students observe the impact that they themselves make, their expectations for the future often change — if I can brighten the lives of those around me, they seem to ask, why can’t I go to college? Why can’t I change the world?
Nikhal will be accompanying me on a Trek to Nepal, where he’ll see firsthand how broadening one’s perspective and pushing one’s boundaries can lift an entire village out of poverty. I look forward to posting more updates from this trip and its influence on participating students.
When asked how buildOn has influenced him, Nikhal said “I have become a much more outgoing person. On a lot of the projects, you can’t be shy. One day we went to 3 homeless shelters…homeless people can be really aggressive. It is important to recognize people in these situations, you’ve got to smile and say hi and lift up the moment.” Nikhal adds that buildOn has specifically helped him with speaking, approaching strangers, and social interaction.
“buildOn has made me a much more active student in my school,” claims Gina. “I am known as the ‘poet or the buildOn girl.’ When I go to projects I always introduce myself to other students and talk with people. Today I am more confident in myself. If it weren’t for buildOn I wouldn’t be this person.”