They buildOn: Afterschool Program Coordinator Brian Socall Reaches Out to Students

A Program and Trek Coordinator since 2007, Brian Socall epitomizes the dedication to outreach that has allowed buildOn to touch so many lives. Working from our Chicago offices, Brian believes that buildOn’s work with local students extends far beyond our afterschool programs. When one of his buildOn students was institutionalized for depression in December, he went to visit her when no one else did. He brought her books to read and taught her how to play some card games. Brian’s passion for his job earned him the buildOn Employee of the Month honor for January.

What were you doing before you joined buildOn?

I was working on my master’s degree in social justice, focusing on sexual violence against Native American women. I was doing an internship at Amnesty International through my graduate program. I worked at a psychiatric hospital for two to three years doing group counseling for troubled teens with emotional and psychological behaviors.

I also helped start a nonprofit that brought college-age and post-college age students abroad to do international development. I was planning local social justice events, raising awareness of poverty in the suburbs of Chicago. I brought in Nobel Peace Prize nominee Wahu Kaara for an event, Wake up to Poverty. I had 150 people crammed in my house for that event.

Finally, I was in Peace Corps as a youth development volunteer in Nicaragua for two years, where I did everything form teach English to start a community bank to help women in the village achieve financial independence. I also started a youth leadership training program.

Recent accomplishments:

I started a new initiative called CORE to train student leaders in my four programs… It’s a seven-workshop training program focused on leadership, project planning, fundraising/development, communication and public speaking. They’re getting a lot of challenges in a fun way.

It’s a mixture of practical team building where we debrief and analyze the students — how they acted as leaders, how did they communicate and deal with each other’s needs.

What do you bring to buildOn?

I bring creativity. When I’ve noticed there’s been a need for something, I try to either create an activity or come up with a new program that would solve that issue – whether it’s “chat circles” on the Trek program or global education activities that are experiential and fun. One of the things I appreciate at buildOn is that it’s a flexible organization, so there’s room to be innovative.

How has buildOn changed your life?

It’s allowed me to establish deeper relationships with high school students and, through Trek and different experiences, open their minds and expand their world-views. Facilitating that process gives me energy and inspires me. I love to see when students are changed and when their minds are blown – whether it’s with working with a homeless person, and they think all homeless people are crazy or drink, or being without their iPods during a trek…  Or how people sleep on the floor and go without shoes and socks. I love seeing that realization happen with my students.

What are some of your favorite memories working with buildOn?

In Mali, this past spring, with a Trek for Knowledge team. We were told there was going to be a celebration in the village, and so at night we started hearing drums being played. And the children were told there was going to be a surprise but didn’t know what was going on. We were telling them there was going to be a dance party, and so the entire village came out to this one meeting spot, and they had drums and all sorts of local indigenous instruments. And we were dancing all around the bonfire in a circle. It was fun to see the kids let loose. Dancing on the sand and the dirt caused it to create this dust storm to form, so every 30 minutes a woman would come around (pouring) water to keep it from being too dusty.

At the end of a trek in Nicaragua, during a closing ceremony, one of my students was giving a closing speech and was sharing how much he was going to miss his host family, and his time in Nicaragua and how much he’s grown from his experience. A lot of us were surprised because he was going to drop the team because he was so scared of living with another family… To see him with tears about how much he connected with his new family was inspiring.

Complete this sentence: buildOn is… a mission and a lifestyle.