Kory’s Story

Meet Kory, a buildOn student who knows a different San Francisco than the one touted in mainstream media.

Kory lives in a challenging community, but working with buildOn gave him some insight into the role he could play in making change. Since joining buildOn’s Bay Area program, he has been exposed to new realities in his own community and learned the value of civic engagement.

Last year, Kory was accepted to go on a school building trip with buildOn, but faced challenges getting a passport. What buildOn staff learned was that Kory technically did not have a legal guardian, bringing to light some of the challenges he faces daily, and subsequently affecting his ability to apply for a passport and go on the trip. Kory’s mother had passed away when he was younger, his father was not in the picture and the paperwork for his guardian appeared to be missing an official stamp.

It was a confusing time.


Kory says he was disappointed, especially when his friends returned from the trip and kept talking about their experience. Even so, he looked for the silver lining, happy to have been able to spend more time with his family during spring break when he would have been on the trip. He was also encouraged to remain even more committed to the tangible impact he is making in his own community.

Kory has put in a lot of hours volunteering at at San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley Greenway, a community garden, and spent the summer interning there as well. Kory worked closely with two of his classmates and the head gardeners to keep the space beautiful for the entire community. Rather than just spending time at the garden on weekends or after school, he was able to work there almost every day during the summer.

Kory never expected to join a program like buildOn, but after our staff helped out with his class retreat, he quickly became involved during his junior year. Kory had previously never had the opportunity to participate in service work and wasn’t even sure where to start.

Kory transferred to Leadership High School during the second half of his sophomore year after attending a boarding school. Most days he would go home from school, do his homework or hang out with friends, unsure what to do with the free time that he now had.

“Before I wasn’t doing much and wasn’t involved in my community. Now I feel more involved and like I am helping change the community. It made me realize that there is a lot more going on than just what I see,” Kory said.

Statistics say that the Bay Area’s graduation rate is on the rise, the dropout rate is decreasing and the number of people experiencing homelessness is also dropping. But amidst these promising numbers, San Francisco is still experiencing high rates of income and health inequality. Violence, criminal activity and inequality of opportunity are disproportionately concentrated in certain neighborhoods. Many of these neighborhoods are home to the nearly 500 California students that work with buildOn each month.

According to Kory, buildOn is unique in that it creates a community for students to get involved with. Rather than students feeling like they “have” to do something, buildOn gives them many options and opportunities to get involved in service learning programs and collaborate together.

“[buildOn] is more like a family than an instructor telling us what to do. Everyone knows each other and develops relationships with the other students and staff,” Kory said.

After first getting involved, Kory completed over 100 hours of community service in just one semester. He thinks buildOn is bettering the community and is looking forward to helping get more students involved with service projects this school year.

For his senior year, Kory is leading other buildOn students at his school to participate in the Greenway project, capitalizing on his experience working at the site, the connections he has made with the staff and enhancing his already strong leadership potential. The garden, therefore, can serve as an educational resource for students as well as a refuge for the entire community.

“I like working over there because it’s a really calm place and a place that everybody can go,” he said. “You help make this nice place for everyone in the community since it’s not the best neighborhood.”

We are creating a better future for America’s youth while building schools in some of the world’s poorest countries. Learn why we are building a #BetterBack2School and join the buildOn movement today.