They buildOn: buildOn Was the ‘Ignition’ for Antonia DeMichiel

To join or not to join? It’s that time of the year where buildOn recruits for new members, and students decided whether or not it’s for them. We asked Antonia DeMichiel, an active buildOn chapter member at the University of Oregon, to tell us about how being in buildOn influenced her life decisions.

Antonia is an exceptional leader who hasn’t let having cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that affects the muscle function in her legs, stop her reaching her goals. She’s traveled the world, built schools in developing countries and has been an inspirational to all of us at buildOn. Check out her blog Globe Trotting on Crutches and visit her We buildOn fundraising page to learn more about her commitment to change the world.

By Antonia DeMichiel

I first got involved with buildOn as a freshman in high school at St. Mary’s College High School in Berkeley. I was a very active participant in our afterschool program, but what I didn’t know at the time is that buildOn would continue to play a big role in my college experience, as well.

I shared my story in front of a crowd of 400 guests at the buildOn Dinner in San Francisco in May 2009. It was three weeks before I walked across the stage at my high school graduation, and I imagined my speech would be my way of leaving a legacy to the organization that helped me tap into my leadership potential.  I remember walking back to the table where my parents were sitting and getting teary-eyed. The service projects I attended, my first experience building a school in Mali, and the buildOn staff that became my mentors helped me find a sense of purpose and belonging amidst the social turmoil of high school. My speech marked the end of an era – or so I thought.

When I began studying at the University of Oregon in September 2009, I signed up for Leadership for the 21st Century. That class connected me with many like-minded students and the staff at the university’s Holden Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement. The staff at the center became an integral part of my success in creating a buildOn chapter on my campus.

I’m proud to say that four of our chapter’s founding members had the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua in July and spend ten days building a school in the community of Bramadero with buildOn’s Global Construction Program. Although I’ve traveled to many different countries with various international service programs, immersing myself in the school construction refueled my passion for buildOn’s mission.

My involvement with buildOn has definitely shaped my path in academia and my plans for after graduation. I’m double majoring in International Studies and Public Policy with a focus on Development in Latin America. Merging my personal interests with my studies is a direct result of everything I witnessed and experienced on my first trip to Mali in 2008. Living in such rural conditions, hearing the life stories of the villagers, and returning home to the United States with a deep-seated confidence in myself showed me that I wanted to continue immersing myself in this work.

With my college graduation fast approaching, I’m now focused on doing strategic planning with our chapter, as well as applying to a few different public service programs, such as the Peace Corps and Jesuit Volunteer Corps. While much of what lies on the road ahead remains unknown, I have to thank buildOn for opening so many doors for me. At the buildOn Global Chapters Conference in August 2012, Jim Ziolkowski,  buildOn’s founder and CEO used the metaphor of an ignition to describe buildOn’s work. He defined “ignition” as “the act of starting a fire so that the engine can begin to work.” buildOn has been my ignition, and no matter where my life takes me after college, I’ll always remember that.