They buildOn: San Antonio Chapter to Build School AfterTwo Years of Challenges

In addition to our afterschool programs in high schools across the United States, buildOn also has a robust presence on college campus. Within many universities, clusters of supporters called “chapters” raise money for our international schools. Cisse Drame founded a buildOn chapter two years ago at University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas with the goal of building a school in Mali. Originally from Mali, Cisse was the first in her family to graduate from college, and while attending the University of the Incarnate Word as a graduate she decided to give back to her country. She approached her psychology professor Dr. John Velasquez about building a school, and he advised her to find an organization that could help. That’s when she discovered buildOn. She and her friends formed the chapter Project Africa in September 2009.

The group’s student officers Stephanie Rodriguez (president and a business major) and Ana Bribiesca (treasurer and a fashion merchandising major) work with John, the faculty sponsor. The three said it took a while for them to get their chapter off the ground, but now Project Africa has ten solid members and their events have huge turnouts. It’s also won the campus award for “Most Charitable Organization” two years in a row. The chapter’s goal is to build a school in Mali by August, making Cisse’s dream come true.

What do you bring to buildOn?

Ana: We have a lot of support with people on campus. We seem to get the community involved in our events.

Stephanie: I think that we each have our areas of concentration – from the fashion department to the business department to someone in graphic design who does flyers and advertising. You could think of Project Africa as an entrepreneurial organization because everybody gets to exercise what they’re studying and focused on.

John: I brought experience partnering agencies and groups together, so this fits in well because everything we do pulls in groups and agencies for a common goal.

How has buildOn changed your life?

[pullquote][buildOn has] brought out the best in everybody.

Stephanie: It’s taught us about working together by acting locally and thinking globally. It’s brought out the best in everybody.

John: It’s broadened my scope of the world. I used to be very focused locally — on campus, San Antonio, maybe Texas. This has forced me to look beyond those boundaries. It’s also taught me that when students have a purpose and a goal to stay out of the way.

Ana: It’s made me more aware of what’s going on around the world and that there’s something we can do to make change in the world.

What events has the group organized since 2009?

Stephanie: There have been several fundraisers. We hosted two male date auctions. Those were fun. The girls bid to ask the guy out on a date. Then we had a talent show and a silent art auction. We had a wine-tasting for staff members, faculty and other business people. We just recently had our fashion mixer… We have a wine dinner coming up at a really exclusive country club here in San Antonio, and we have a silent art auction going on.

John: We participated in the Basura Bash, which helps the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word with an environment cleanup around the river. This is an environmentally sensitive campus.

Have you had any particular notable donations?

John: There was a donation from the Sister’s congregation, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, for 1000 dollars. They’re the ones whose mission we serve… why we’re here. For us to win that, we felt like we were doing the right thing, although we had to fight and struggle to get our ideas and our events approved. We had our own little justice battle and stood up to a lot of people because it was too much with what the students are interested in; we had college nights at local clubs. We were stretching boundaries by involving students to raise money.

What are some of your favorite memories working with buildOn?

Stephanie: The fashion mixer is probably the biggest experience we’ve had so far. That brought in 350 people. And I think everybody was really satisfied with the mixer because we all knew how much work it involved, with partnering and stress.

Ana: I think most of the great memories came from planning this fashion show. It took three months … We had fittings at local stores and each store had their own show. They chose some outfits and got models to volunteer. And then we had a salon do African-inspired hair and makeup.

[pullquote]My truly favorite moment was the end of last year, during the awards banquet. We were never recognized before and it came at us real fast.[/pullquote]

John: My truly favorite moment was the end of last year, during the awards banquet. They didn’t tell us anything about it and told us to come, and that’s when we realized we had been nominated for all sorts of awards. We won four that night: best new organization, most charitable organization, most consistent with the mission, and then most creative event of the year. It was like the Academy Awards for us. We were never recognized before and it came at us real fast.

Complete this sentence:

Ana: buildOn is… an opportunity to help people around the world and make a difference.

John: buildOn is… a role model for thinking big and reaching out really far.

Stephanie: buildOn is… the opportunity to educate those in most need.