buildOn Gala 2018: Celebrating the Power & Empowerment of Women

We can’t stop thinking about what an amazing time we had at the 2018 buildOn Gala! More than 1,000 buildOn supporters and students came together to celebrate ‘The Power and Empowerment of Women’ at the Javits Center in New York City on Wednesday, November 14th, and the sold-out celebration raised $3,000,000 to support buildOn’s work to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations.

The 2018 buildOn Gala honored the ways women have made the buildOn Movement what it is today—from the female buildOn students giving back to their neighborhoods in Bridgeport and the Bronx to the women across the world who are mobilizing their communities to build their villages’ first quality school structures. Margaret Keane, the President and CEO of Synchrony, was honored at the event for her commitment to buildOn’s mission and leading Synchrony to become a key partner of buildOn.

Above: Margaret Keane, the President and CEO of Synchrony, spoke about her connection to the buildOn mission at the 2018 Gala. (All photographs by Chris Leary)

Two of buildOn’s very own took the stage at the start of the evening, as Chief Marketing Officer Carrie Pena and Chief Revenue Officer Marc Friedman welcomed the hundreds in attendance to the 2018 buildOn Gala before introducing buildOn Alum Carolyn Smith. A 2017 graduate from Bassick High School in Bridgeport, Carolyn sang a beautiful and moving rendition of “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys.

Above: Carolyn Smith, a buildOn Alum from Bassick High School in Bridgeport, sings “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys to kick off the buildOn Gala.

After her powerful song, Carolyn called buildOn’s Founder, President, and CEO Jim Ziolkowski to the stage. Jim spoke about how community members in countries such as Haiti are rallying their communities to build schools and increase access to education for entire villages. And he talked about the impact individual students are having within the buildOn Movement in the U.S. Jim then welcomed one of those very students he spoke of to the stage.

“It’s through service that I’ve learned what it means to be a leader.”

Lawrence Artis, a buildOn student at the School for Tourism and Hospitality in the Bronx, shared how service has impacted his life and made him into the person he is today. “It’s through service that I’ve learned what it means to be a leader,” Lawrence said. “Being a leader means always working to understand someone else’s point of view and never judging another person. From leading service projects I’ve learned that it is up to me to listen to people, to respect their feelings and who they are individuals, and that no matter the situation, I can control my actions and always treat people with compassion.”

Above: Lawrence Artis, a buildOn student from the Bronx, shares how he’s become a leader within his school and his community. Lawrence has dedicated himself to more than 500 hours of service with buildOn.

After Lawrence’s speech, a successful appeal, and a delicious dinner, Roobenson St. Martin, a buildOn Alum from Bridgeport and a Junior Analyst at Synchrony, shared his buildOn story and how Margaret Keane, the President and CEO of Synchrony has impacted his life. “I felt like people have told me throughout my life that I will never amount to anything because of the school I went to and where I’m from. But Margaret opened the door for me and told me through her actions that she doesn’t believe those things,” Rooben said. “She’s shown me that although life can be tough, there is always a way forward and that there’s always a way to continue being a positive force in the world.”

“…each and every one of us, we have the power to go out into the world and make it better.”

Faby Garcia, another buildOn Alum from Bassick High School, also shared why giving back and serving on a local level is so important. “Too many people don’t realize the power they have to change another person’s day, week, or even their life. But I’m proof that service changes lives,” Faby said. “Everyone here tonight, each and every one of us, we have the power to go out into the world and make it better. And so I challenge you to do just that—let’s be the hope our communities need.”

Above: Faby Garcia, a buildOn Alum from Bassick High School, speaks about the importance of serving others and how young women like her are leaders within the buildOn Movement.

The evening came to an end after a profound spoken word performance by four buildOn students from the Bronx—Serenity Henlon, Ajani Hunt, Luis De Jesus, and Taylor Wright. buildOn students and staff joined Serenity, Ajani, Luis, and Taylor on the stage to cheer “WE ARE BUILDON” to officially bring the 2018 buildOn Gala to a close.

Thank you to all of our students, staff, and supporters who made the 2018 buildOn Gala such a success. Special thanks to the our National Board of Directors, our New York Board, and the following corporate sponsors: Accenture, Citi, FirstData, Fiserv, GE, J.P. Morgan, McKinsey & Co., PwC, Rodan + Fields, Salesforce, and Synchrony.

Below: buildOn students join Jim Ziolkowski on stage to cheer “WE ARE BUILDON!” as the buildOn Gala comes to an end.