Spring Breaking the Rules

Sit in front of the TV and vedge all day? Forget about it! Our buildOn members are no couch potatoes. For the past five years, we’ve been organizing alternative Spring Breaks in all of our regions. Read some of the highlights from each region :

New York

We started our Spring Break at Brook Avenue Garden, a community garden that is beloved by everyone in the Bronx Region. When the students arrived we gathered in the field area of the garden and informed the students of the week’s theme: using your voice. We had 110 students volunteering that day, and because we were such a large group we were able to send a smaller group of students to a neighboring community garden, Padre Plaza. Both gardens were extremely grateful for the help we provided. At the end of the day the groups from both gardens came together at Brook Garden and a representative from each group explained the highs and lows of their respective projects. buildOn’s Mat Pryfogle, a Senior Program and Trek Coordinator, ended the day with a tag game that addressed a nutrition fact he shared with them earlier that morning. Students made the connection that their communities are in need of better food choices and community gardens can be an educational resource to learn how to adopt better eating habits.

Friday was the grand finale to Spring Break. We had a buildOn Olympics. Students were split into twelve teams and competed against one another in six different events. Events included whiffle ball, kickball, touch football, ultimate Frisbee and relay races. The two teams with the most points challenged each other in a final Tug-of-War.


Connecticut collaborated with the Yerwood Center in hosting a week-long day camp for children in grades Kindergarten through sixth grade. Activities at Spring Break Camp focused on community, creativity and the environment.

buildOn students were engaged in the planning process through  planning committees. The Stamford-based committee worked in conjunction with the Youth Leadership Program at the Yerwood Center and met weekly to create and plan activities for the kids during the day. The Bridgeport-based committee met to plan the evening activities for the buildOn members.

The Stamford planning committee developed daily themes and brainstormed a variety of activities for each day, from organizing a field day, teaching how to tie dye and playing with worms in dirt. buildOn staff compiled these activity ideas into a master camp schedule and each evening buildOn students signed up for the activities they wanted to lead the next day. They then planned the content of the actual activity. Students took on the role of camp counselors and stayed with a class all week.

It was truly incredible to watch students take on this incredible challenge of planning and implementing a camp for kids. They discovered new-found patience and responsibility and developed tremendous skills for working with children and developing activities. Best of all, the students made new friends with other buildOn students from eleven schools and the thirty Yerwood Center teens, and completed over 2,000 hours of service!


Spirit of Hope is a historic church located in Detroit with a heritage that goes back to the 1880’s.  As you walk through the church you can feel the rich history and the love, which was the perfect environment for our Spring Break Overnight Retreat. This was the second year buildOn brought together young leaders to participate in this fun and meaningful project. We started the day with fun ice breakers, getting everyone laughing and learning each other’s names. This year we had in-depth conversations about everything from race relations within our schools to the importance of service to bullying. We used activities to recognize the power one person has for change, following up with a question to captivate their imaginations and get them thinking about a perfect society.

This year, we worked in the Spirit of Hope’s garden and helped in the food pantry. The students always have a good time working with the chickens, roosters and a huge turkey name Uncle Bob, who got a girlfriend this year.  Spirit of Hope has been very innovative in the use and reuse of everyday items. They use tires to help keep the vegetable in the garden growing longer, by keeping the soil warm, when the winter begins.  They also have rain catchers to preserve water and use it in the Hoop House Garden, which allows them to grow fruit, vegetable and herbs all year long.

After four hours of service and dining on tacos, we organized a group activity where students analyzed the events and stages of their life that have shaped who they are and where they’re going. They ended the night with a movie, went to bed and went home the next day.


We organized a variety of projects all over the city. Students helped with physically demanding projects, such as gardening, clearing trail, and cleaning up trash by the river. They participated in a Civil War Park Day at Mount Moriah Cemetery where they raked freshly mowed grass, toured the cemetery grounds and, to their excitement, met the mayor. They also helped serve dinner to the homeless and pack boxes of food for those in need. Students directly worked with seniors, children at a shelter and adults with developmental disabilities, creating healthy snacks. They participated in a cultural scavenger hunt at the art museum, as well as an anti-street harassment workshop with Hollaback Philly. Students were able to talk about their experiences with street harassment and discuss its effects.  Students got into groups that either compiled their experiences and thing they have heard, or compiled things that they wish they could say back for videos to advocate against street harassment.  We ended with a celebratory picnic at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt on Saturday where students were able to relax, socialize and eat.


One of our most exciting and unique projects was the buildOn Compass Olympics!  Six students from Mission High School spent one day of their break assigning roles and coming up with activities to host an Olympics-themed event at Compass Housing Alliance, a local transitional shelter. Students designed medals, came up with games, and outlined the rules and logistics for the day. Two days later, we met at the shelter and the games began. We had two teams; our students were the team leaders and another group of students organized the games. We had relay races, hula-hoop contests, freeze dance competitions, limbo and more. The kids from Compass had so much fun, and their youth director was so thrilled with the event that afterwards she treated all of our students to ice cream with her kids. One of our students commented, “When we were planning, I didn’t think we were really going to be able to do it, but we did.”


buildOn students attended a tour of Columbia College. We were treated to a different type of tour that focused on the photography, journalism and broadcast departments. Afterwards, we were given the opportunity to use a photography studio. Students learned how to operate tens of thousands of dollars of photography equipment while taking portrait photos of each other. Afterwards, students reflected on their experience and wrote down a few meaningful statements.

We also took 18 Chicago students to Camp Cavell in Lexington, Mich. Students had a wonderful time serving. Our work projects included: moving mattresses and bunk beds to different cabins, a demolition project, reorganizing their storage shed, cleaning out stables for a rescue horse barn, cutting poles to make teepees, restoration work near the beach front, washing down the camp kitchen, raking leaves to clear walking paths and, last but not least, splitting up into different teams to cook meals during our stay. We are so proud of these students for maintaining positive attitudes and for being flexible and open with their tasks.

We made time for fun adventures in town that included running across a hanging bridge, watching a movie at the local theater, sight-seeing and shopping. We challenged students to go on a night hike and explore treasures on the beach. Our closing activity was making delicious homemade pizzas over the camp fire while gazing up at the stars on the beach. We are all very grateful for the wonderful relationships we have with Camp Cavell and look forward to returning very soon!