Isac Herrara Discovers through Volunteeringthat the Choices He Makes Matter
Our student speaker at the buildOn Breakfast in Chicago last month was Isac Herrera, a resident of the city’s South Side and a shining example of the social power of volunteerism and youth service. His story, from near-expulsion to college matriculation, is posted below.
I find the words of philosopher Albert Pike very meaningful. He said, “What you do for yourself alone dies with you. What you do for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
My name is Isac Herrera. I grew up in a gang-infested neighborhood in the South side of Chicago. My dad tried to protect and isolate his kids from the drugs and bad company, but I got sucked into that world at school. I was a mediocre student in grade school. In eighth grade I did my best to fit in with the crowd, and although I wasn’t gang affiliated I would do everything I could to be liked by the those who were. Eventually I was suspended and nearly expelled. I needed a clean start in high school.
[pullquote]This year alone, there were three shootings at Gage Park, two in the first month of school. I was scared that nothing would change, that I could not change.[/pullquote]
Unfortunately, the high school I entered was worse. This year alone, there were three shootings at Gage Park, two in the first month of school. I was scared that nothing would change, that I could not change, and I would fall in with the wrong crowd again. Luckily, that is not my story.
I am currently a senior at Gage Park High School. Although Gage Park is known for gang violence, drug dealing and many negative stereotypes, I found a different path for myself. I found buildOn.
I joined buildOn in my freshman year. The program helped me with my new beginning by giving me something to do after school and on weekends. While my peers from middle school continued running with gangs, I was introduced to new people — students and buildOn staff, people who I should be affiliated with because they would have a positive influence on me. My life could have taken a very different direction, but buildOn continued to make sure I stayed out of trouble throughout freshman and sophomore year.
My buildOn Advisor, Mr. Ratterman, and some buildOn students would go to a homeless center for women and children to sort donations. We would also visit homes for the elderly to cook them a healthy meal, play games and spend quality time with them. The people at these projects appreciated me, and helped me gain more confidence.
[pullquote]Volunteering showed me that the choices I make matter. They matter not just to me but to every life I touch.[/pullquote]
More importantly, volunteering showed me that the choices I make matter. They matter not just to me but to every life I touch. My junior year I was chosen to build a school in Mali, Africa. Living in a rural village made realize how fortunate I was to have everything that I have — from the material things to the people in my life. This experience helped me to embrace my education, because I got to see what education can do, and how desperate people are to get it when it’s not available. I overcame certain obstacles in Mali, but I got to come back home. What gives me more confidence to face the obstacles in my life here in Chicago is remembering how my friends in Mali were so determined to create better lives for themselves and their children, and I helped them do it.
buildOn has helped me stand out instead of fitting in, when fitting in means a life of low expectations. I no longer think people see me as mediocre because I don’t see myself as a mediocre person. I see myself as someone who has made huge changes in his life and above all has made a great impact in the lives of others. buildOn has helped me find my purpose not only in high school but also for the rest of my life.
I am determined to be the first person in my family to graduate college. This fall I’m going to attend the University of Cincinnati. I want to work hard to provide a better education for my children. I want to be the kind of person few people believe I can be, the kind of person buildOn believes I am.