Announcing the 2017 buildOn Award Winners

At the 2017 ONE buildOn Conference, buildOn celebrated members of the buildOn team who have exemplified the best of the movement in their efforts to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education. Three of the awards highlighted team members whose actions demonstrated one of buildOn’s core values of compassion, empowerment and responsibility, and the Ahmed Khere “Never Give Up” Award recognized an individual who demonstrated courage and resiliency in the face of extreme adversity.

Award winners were recognized at the 2017 One buildOn Conference, and they will be recognized again at the 2017 buildOn Gala in New York City. We are incredibly proud to publicly announce the winners of the 2017 buildOn Awards. The winners are…

Compassion Award

In order to receive buildOn’s Compassion Award, the honoree must have demonstrated humility while alleviating the suffering of others through service, or servant leadership.

Jackie Vargas

Jackie Vargas is the definition of compassion.

Through her work as a Service Learning Program Coordinator, Jackie has worked tirelessly to provide a safe space for students in a world that is often chaotic. This past year, Jackie started a Girl Confidence group which provided students with a safe space to talk about issues that affect them as young women and support one another through service. The group grew to include young men as well because they saw the importance of being able to reflect on their experience, grow their character and influence their communities.

Although the school where Jackie works does not have a LGBTQ organization and the student body can be hostile to the queer community, Girl Confidence has helped begin to alleviate social stigmas through in-class service lessons.

One of Jackie’s students who joined buildOn this past school year and traveled to Haiti with Jackie on Trek this summer, said the following about her. “Ever since I came to buildOn, you welcomed me with open arms. You always made time for me whether I felt upset or happy. When you created Girl Confidence, the lessons you taught me have helped me to manage my emotions and realize the power of service. You have guided me with a firm yet gentle hand and for that I thank you.”

At this past school year’s graduation ceremony, the salutatorian shouted out buildOn and specifically the lessons she learned in Girl Confidence in her remarks to the school. Seeing this once meek girl transform into a powerful, courageous, young woman on stage made me so proud, not just of our student, but also of Jackie.

Our students, who often feel as though they don’t have someone in their corner, have a light and an ally in Jackie Vargas.

– Nomination text by Amina Brown, Program Director, Bridgeport

Empowerment Award

buildOn’s Empowerment Award is reserved for an individual who has inspired others through leadership and example to create positive change and to believe in their ability to live a bigger life.

Jharana Bam

Jharana Bam is one of the most powerful individuals buildOn is fortunate enough to employ.

Jharana comes from a community similar in economic setting to the communities we build schools with. She not only supports all Treks that come to Nepal, but builds exceedingly strong relationships with community members and leaders.

Jharana has connected with Trek participants on a level that few in our field have the capacity to do. She has an in-depth understanding of the power of education in breaking the cycle. And she can eloquently state the relationship between our work, the contributions of Trek participants and community members, and the outcomes we all strive for.

She can translate these two ideas into action for participants as a way of empowering them to work harder, to immerse themselves in a new culture, and to take home the message of Trek and of buildOn. This empowerment extends past adults on Trek and into our buildOn U.S. students as well.

Recently, when a group of buildOn U.S. students from New York came to Nepal, there was a team having a tense time on the worksite. Various team members were frustrated with others, pointing fingers, getting in arguments…but Jharana never once lost her smile.

Instead, she led an amazing cultural activity that the buildOn U.S. students then taught to the young children and students in the community. She orchestrated games to play with them, translated, and even participated. Her energy was quickly absorbed by all of those around her and the tension eased.

It wasn’t until the chat circle however, that her ability to empower the students came through. She led a chat circle about the power of education and the effects that the Trek’s efforts were having on the community. She explained how the new school and the prospects that came with it were bringing so much joy to children in the community and their families.

By the end of the chat circle, students who were previously not speaking or angry were actually in tears and wanted to get back to the work on the school despite the fact that we were done for the day. The impact of her message and genuine passion for our mission truly affected the students and the staff alike.

The next day, the students had their best day on the worksite and engaged with the community in a way they had not done before.

Jharana Ji and her message had empowered the students to really give all they had to the school and the community.

This is just one example why the Empowerment Award is going to Jharana Bam, the International Trek Coordinator for Nepal.

– Nomination text by John Sorek, Trek Manager, East Coast

Responsibility Award

buildOn’s Responsibility Award honors an individual who has continually stepped up and gone above and beyond in her work to further the mission of buildOn.

Jessie Schwartz

Jessie Schwartz has consistently gone above and beyond in her work at buildOn.

Here are just a few example of how she steps up in her everyday work…

When the Chicago region needed administrative support and leadership centered around Trek, Jessie stepped up and led the region by supplying a wealth of knowledge, training, and managing our new interns and handling every last detail for each of the buildOn U.S. students going on Trek.

Last year, when each region was asked to spearhead a project that combatted violence in their city, Jessie made sure buildOn Chicago was planning a quality event and led the Chicago team through a year-long Increase the Peace initiative with a council of nominated student leaders. Through her leadership, we were able to support and plan an event that our students were proud of and that they could call their own.

When Chicago students returned from Trek and weren’t as involved in buildOn after their global experience, Jessie came up with an innovative project to bring them back to service. She designed the Trek Buddies program—where returning Trek students mentor students who will be leaving on Trek through the process of preparing to go to another country to build a school. The Trek Buddies shared tips, served together in Chicago, and even wrote encouraging letters for their partners to read during difficult moments on Trek. Jessie cares deeply about the students’ experience and wanted to provide students with a new opportunity to step up as leaders.

After consistently excelling in monthly Key Performance Indicators for her work at Carl Schurz High School in Chicago, Jessie decided not to become complacent in her success but to keep striving to make buildOn at Schurz better. She created a partnership with a local church, St. John’s, to provide quarterly dinners to residents facing food insecurity. She empowered students to plan dinner menus and serve the food during the holidays so that residents could come and enjoy a warm meal and feel comfortable. She also made sure the Schurz’s Food Science Lab, where buildOn students grow healthy food for the surrounding community, provided locally grown vegetables in each meal.

Jessie epitomizes what it means to be a team player, and she holds herself personally accountable while setting high expectations for everyone around her. Additionally, she is always looking for ways to expand her role and influence within the team. Jessie doesn’t do these things for recognition or to exceed goals. She has always felt a strong sense of responsibility to her school and the students she serves.

– Nomination text by Kevin Pitts and Beth Price, Service Learning Program Managers, Chicago

Ahmed Khere “Never Give Up” Award

Named in honor of fallen team member Ahmed Khere who sacrificed his life to protect buildOn team members and volunteers during a 2016 terrorist attack in Burkina Faso, the “Never Give Up” Award recognizes a team member who has demonstrated courage, resiliency, grit and selflessness in the face of extreme adversity.

Nick Hess

Nick Hess embodies everything that Ahmed Khere “Never Give Up” Award stands for.

I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for the way that Nick has returned to work after the terrorist attack that took place in Burkina Faso in January 2016. When Nick returned to work, I saw was an individual who had been through an unimaginably horrific event and came out on the other side choosing to live his life as he did before—with compassion, with humility, with openness, with warmth, with a smile on his face and love in his heart.

In a post on the buildOn Blog, Nick wrote that after the attack, everyone in the movement were forced to make a decision. “We can react with hate and anger, feeding the cycle, or we can challenge ourselves to understand and ultimately forgive.”

Nick wrote that for him, the decision was easy. He challenged himself to understand and ultimately forgive.

It is hard for me to put into words how impressed I have been with Nick. Suffice it to say that I believe the way that he has lived his life represents the very best of buildOn.

– Nomination text by Brett Slezak, Storyteller & Content Strategist, Chicago

buildOn Award Nominees

buildOn would also like to congratulate the following nominees on their nominations and thank them for their commitment and dedication to breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education:

Compassion Award: Abdoul Keita, Amber Neal, Delo Gano, Rampyari Dangaura, Tunisia Jones and Valarie Duran

Empowerment Award: Adama Doumbia, Alhousseyni Maiga, Amber Perkins Ellis, Amina Brown, Arielle Polites, Béatrice Barro Sanou, Belita Nguluwe, Beson Macheso, Betsy Grace, Brooke Ahles, Chelsea Owens, Francisco Ramirez, Jon Mucciolo, Joseph Amos, Raj Kumari Chaudhary, Supachart Tauthong, Suze Charles, Tierra Coleman and Wadi Salimu

Responsibility Award: Adnan Karim, Amber Neal, Atusaye Mwafulirwa, Beson Macheso, Betsy Grace, Chelsea Owens, Daniela Ibarrola, Danny Maxwell, Delo Gano, Joseph Amos, Marie Chantal Millogo and Valarie Duran

Ahmed Khere “Never Give Up” Award: Jharana Bam, Ram Krishna Tharu, Valarie Duran and Yasser Fauricio Lanuza Pineda