Roobenson St. Martin

Thanks to an unfortunate food fight incident at his previous school, Rooben transferred to Bassick High School at the end of freshman year. Add in skipping class and skimping on school work and he was not setting himself up well for a successful high school career.

But today, Rooben is student body president, an accomplishment that he finds hard to believe. Some of that success comes from his positive energy and undeniable charisma. But, he also credits some to buildOn. He says he’s learned leadership skills, social skills and the power of persuasion.  “If buildOn wasn’t here, I honestly think all of us at Bassick would be worse than we are,” he adds.

Rooben says that he first found buildOn when he was “running away from trouble.” A girl was chasing him, so he says, so he ducked into what he thought was a random classroom. Students were playing ping pong and rumors swirled that the program coordinator sometimes brought in pizza. He was hooked. But, it wasn’t long before Rooben learned more about buildOn’s programming and signed up to intern at the YMCA. There – at the same program where Joel met Angel – Rooben saw a lot of himself in Angel’s brother Tristan.

Tristan was the obvious troublemaker of the group. He walked around “like he hated the world” and Rooben decided Tristan was the last kid he wanted to work with. They ended up together anyway and, in retrospect, Rooben can see why they connected.

Rooben’s younger sister passed away when he was about 10-years-old. The evening is still vivid in his memory – flashing lights, paramedics and a state of confusion. “All I was thinking was ‘let me go back to sleep.’ They are just being loud and annoying,” he said “But when I woke up, I found that my sister was in the hospital and no one wanted to talk about it.”

He later realized that he had been thinking only about himself that entire night.

Rooben found that he could be there for Tristan, even if just for a short time, in ways that he has not been able to be there for his sister.

“He didn’t have a stable home. When you’re going through something like that, you need a friend. I was hoping that, as I got to know him, I could maybe be his escape,” Rooben says. 

Rooben also knew what it was like to move around a lot. He lived in Haiti before moving to Florida. Then, he moved back to Haiti and ultimately to Bridgeport towards the end of elementary school, where he continued jumping from house to house, always in a perpetual state of transition.

“I felt like you couldn’t really care about things because nothing in life is consistent or lasts forever. Like what is the point if nothing stays the same,” he says.

Rooben’s mom is still in Haiti and even though they talk on the phone almost every day, he hasn’t seen her since they first moved to Bridgeport. She might be able to come for his graduation in June, but Rooben is trying not to get his hopes up. His twelve siblings and step-siblings are spread throughout the United States and beyond and he’s currently living with his dad in Bridgeport. Since it’s now just the two of them at home, and their personalities are different, home is often quiet. buildOn gives him a place where he does not have to stay still. It’s an easy environment to be yourself.

Today, Rooben has learned to be a staunch advocate for his school and community. It bothers him that other students are not proud of Bassick. He’s confident that young people can take action too. Rather than just talking about making change, they can actually do something about it. He’s learned to focus on his own potential too. He tries to be positive in every situation and to have faith that, despite struggles, everything works out in the end.

“Growing up I was always taught that people will always doubt you no matter what, but you have to prove them wrong and care about the people around you,” Rooben says.”Before I knew I had potential but never knew how to draw it out until now.”

It comes easily though, when you like the work that you’re doing.

“You know how people say you don’t really have a job if you love what you’re doing. I guess if this was my job it wouldn’t feel like a job at all.”