Just Sam serves with buildOn

Making our Communities Sing: A Service Day with Just Sam

Our biggest event of the year––the annual buildOn Gala––is almost here! On November 14th the buildOn community will Illuminate the Future at The Glasshouse in New York City and we’re thrilled to welcome NYC native and Season 18 American Idol winner Samantha “Just Sam” Diaz as our featured performer. 

Known by their stage name Just Sam, Samantha Diaz is a singer-songwriter from Harlem, New York who rose to fame after winning the eighteenth season of the singing reality show American Idol in 2020.

Just Sam auditioned for the singing competition in Washington, D.C. in October of 2019. After surviving Hollywood Week and making it into the Top 5, Just Sam received the most votes to win, and on May 17, 2020, they were crowned the winner of the show, beating runner-up Arthur Gunn. Just Sam was also the first African American winner since Candice Glover in season twelve and the show’s revival on ABC.

Despite this success, Sam hasn’t forgotten their roots. They jumped at the opportunity to join buildOn in service to their community.

On October 31st, the best way to do that was through screams, jump-scares, and, of course, candy. Sam joined students from Bronx Leadership Academy 2 and Explorations Academy to help run a community haunted house hosted by New York State Assemblywoman Chantel Jackson. 

The Assemblywoman’s office was completely transformed from papers, staffers, and staplers to spiderwebs, ghosts, and ghouls in her spooky haunted maze. Local kids and their families, regardless of age, were thrilled and terrified by the spooky ambience and scary characters lurking around every corner.

Just Sam at a buildOn service day in the Bronx

Sam and the students played a vital role in the haunted house, donning masks and jumping out at the perfect moment to scare visitors. They also helped give out candy at the end of the experience, making sure the kids got sweet treats to follow the spooky tricks.

The event brought a classic holiday experience to a community that might not otherwise get one. This part of the Bronx experiences higher levels of gun violence and poverty than other parts of the city, and children often can’t go trick-or-treating on Halloween because the streets aren’t safe after dark. 

“I couldn’t afford costumes on Halloween… I would find programs like this to go to with my grandmother and my sister and it really did make a world of difference for us.”

Samantha “Just Sam” Diaz

And still, because of events like this one, local children are able to create Halloween memories that will last a lifetime. “When I think about the haunted house that I went to when I was 5, 6, or 7, I still remember that experience,” the Assemblywoman recalled after the event. “So you guys have baked an experience in these kids’ heads forever.” 

Serving at the event reminded Sam of their own childhood in Harlem. “For me personally, I like to see things like this in communities,” the singer said. “I couldn’t afford costumes on Halloween almost every year growing up. And I would find programs like this to go to with my grandmother and my sister and it really did make a world of difference for us.”

To help bring light and joy to communities across the world, please consider making a gift to support both buildOn’s U.S. and global programs.