Shamel’s friends like to poke fun at him. Watch out: he can definitely hold a grudge and one does not want to be on his bad side. If it exists, though, you’ll never see that side at service with buildOn. That’s where Shamel’s big heart shines through, whether he’s cooking up tacos at a homeless shelter for veterans or organizing a science project with elementary school students.
He’s well known around school too. Academically, he’s doing well – having achieved first honors both this year and last. He is also a representative for the senior class on school government. It’s hard to walk down the hall behind him, another buildOn student mentioned, because Shamel is always stopping to say hello to everyone.
He only really got involved with buildOn about four months ago, but wishes that he had earlier. There is something special about Bassick’s buildOn program that keeps him coming back.
“I went into buildOn as a good person already,” he says, to put it simply. “But I’m coming out as a better person.”
Finding buildOn is not the first time that he’s found a community that he enjoys. Shamel used to spend much of his time playing basketball with people from his neighborhood. It was a hodge podge group, but made him see the value of building up strong friendships.
“Every time I’m outside there are people who want to play. We all came from different places and are different shapes and sizes, but we don’t care, we just play the game,” he says.
That way, you know that someone always has your back and you can feel comfortable, safe and supported.
He’s gets a similar feeling at buildOn too. He thinks that not everyone at Bassick realizes that their community could be better if they all played a role in improving their neighborhood. Sometimes it’s an easy fix – like painting buildings and cleaning up their school. “This gives us something to do that’s beneficial. You don’t want to be out in the streets doing anything illegal. With buildOn, we have something to do, something to have fun with and just be around other people.”
Shamel also appreciates the chance to be connected to something bigger than himself, and bigger than just Bridgeport. For example, at this year’s buildOn Gala, he learned how many people are part of the buildOn movement.
“I heard stories about kids who came from the projects and dealt with a lot of things, like shootings, and it was normal for them. But they came to buildOn and had a different mindset after that. It’s all opened my mind and I’m glad I’m doing this because it’s helping my community,” he says.
Shamel has seen a change in himself. Service makes him happy, to put it simply. He also finds it easier to put anything life throws at him in perspective. For example, when one of his friends recently got into a fight, he realized the positive influence of his buildOn community and staff when they helped him to think calmly and to relax, rather than retaliating.
Beyond buildOn? He has big plans. Shamel is interested in studying psychology when he goes onto college next year.
“There is something about human behavior and how things affect us. Some people cry at certain things, other people wouldn’t. The reactions, to understand the human brain and how we function, it’s just something I would love to know,” he says.
But for now, he’s focused on the difference he can make in Bridgeport.
“Bridgeport needs help, as much help as it can, to build itself up.”