Students Become the “Voices of buildOn” at Annual Leadership Workshop

On Saturday, February 19th, a small collection of high school students from buildOn’s afterschool programs in Chicago met to discuss their experiences and improve their communication skills at the second annual “Voices of buildOn”. Much like at last year’s workshop, many of the students chosen to participate had overcome unique challenges and displayed a noteworthy passion for public service. They convened to examine how buildOn has changed their lives and their communities, and how to best articulate this significance to others in the hopes of inspiring more to local action.

In the workshop’s first exercise, each student brainstormed themes relevant to their connection with buildOn and how their involvement in it began. These themes were then developed and linked to buildOn’s mission statement, and to how the organization empowers at-risk youth in the U.S. and poverty-stricken individuals in developing nations. Using these ideas, the students composed and practiced 30-second “Elevator Speeches” about buildOn — highly focused and compelling pitches that can be used to pique the interest of fellow classmates or casual contacts.

The workshop’s next activity engaged the students’ creative side, assigning each participant to a group where they explored buildOn’s significance through modes of artistic expression: Charcoal drawings and collages, interpretative dance, songwriting, poetry, and improvisational acting.

After fine-tuning these creative works with buildOn afterschool program coordinators, the entire workshop put on a performance showcasing what had been accomplished. In many cases, the students were intimidated by their peer audience, but overcame their stage fright to share stories of growth from their tenure at buildOn and abstract meditations on what the program has meant to them personally.

A freshman from Amundson High School in Chicago named Octavio Medina, for example, was somewhat hesitant to read the poem he’d written in the workshop. His verses not coincidentally discussed the awkwardness he felt during his first few service projects with buildOn, and how this eventually gave way to a sense of pride and community he hadn’t felt before. (Medina is one of Amundson High’s most active buildOn participants.) These emotions were re-enacted through the experience of his recital, which was one of the afternoon’s most memorable.

“Voices of buildOn” attracted a wide range of students from various Chicago neighborhoods and grade levels. In all cases, however, the participants left the workshop feeling more confident in their communication and public speaking skills, which in turn produced new motivation towards their personal goals and professional aspirations. I spoke to a pair of seniors who feel that what they’ve learned in buildOn has prepared them for post-high school success. “I can’t wait to graduate,” one of them remarked. “There’s so much to do.” Then he paused. “But I’m really going to miss buildOn.”