The Little Things That Make a Big Difference:buildOn @ the National Conference on Service and Volunteering

By Abby Hurst, Vice President of U.S. Programs

buildOn presented a session at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service this year about engaging and mobilizing youth. Our CEO and founder Jim Ziolkowski gave a speech that illustrated the impact our afterschool youth service program has on participants–our students broaden their perspectives, go on to college in astoundingly high numbers, and help to build schools for impoverished villages around the world. We also shared our engagement methodology, focusing on the structure of our programs in high schools and how we function with our many partner associations.

[pullquote]But the highlights of the session, without a doubt, were provided by our student panel.[/pullquote]

But the highlights of the session, without a doubt, were provided by our student panel, who first offered highly emotional testimony about how buildOn has altered the course of their lives, and then fielded questions from a truly inspired crowd of attendees. Some quotes from their biographical addresses:

I have done over 380 hours of service through buildOn and I can tell you that if it wasn’t for buildOn, I could be dead or in jail. – Ron Daldine Jr.

During the past two years, I have had two of my cousins murdered, lost a friend to cancer and another to suicide. Through each of these events my buildOn family, both staff and students, have helped me get through this difficult time…. It is because of the people who are invested in buildOn that we are able to make an impact in the world and our communities. – Rayia Gaddy (Rayia has completed over 540 hours of service)

When I came to NY three years ago from the Dominican Republic, I didn’t speak any English and I had no idea how to get around. Language is still a barrier for me but through buildOn I’m able to express myself because buildOn is like being around family. This past February of 2010, I traveled to Mali, West Africa to build a school in Chessana. It was like ‘Wow!’ This experience made me understand that it doesn’t matter the difference of countries and environments, we can help each other and there is always someone who needs help. – Faustino “Junior” De la Cruz, Jr.

[pullquote]We view youth as a part of the solution.[/pullquote]

Throughout the various parts of our session, we emphasized above all else how our program works because of our staff, and the positive safe space our staff provides students.  We do little things that make a big difference in our students’ lives: Learn their names, constantly invite them to projects, encourage them, recognize their contributions, identify strengths.  Students respond to that, to the relationship, to the caring adult. And then they begin to see themselves differently, and begin to interact with their community differently.  We view youth as a part of the solution and are dedicated to finding ways to harness their creativity and idealism to make positive change.

We look forward to NCVS 2012 in Chicago, IL!