Service Reflection: The Impact of Service on a buildOn Graduate

This month we’re celebrating the 95% of buildOn students who graduate high school and go on to college – students like Naomi Itzel Rodriguez Jose from the Bronx. Naomi joined buildOn in her sophomore year and contributed to a variety of service projects, including Hurricane Sandy relief. In this college admissions essay, Naomi reflects on her service with buildOn and the impact that it has made on her life. She will be attending SUNY Oswego in the fall.

As we approached the barely standing piece of wood, we witnessed what was a house, but it had no roof and no floor, just the frame of the entrance door.

A week after Hurricane Sandy I volunteered to travel to one of the most affected areas in New York City, Staten Island. I traveled with a group of students and mentors from the buildOn organization. buildOn is an organization that builds schools in third world countries while getting high school students involved within their community through many different service projects. I could not stay home another day and not do something about what was happening around me. Every day I saw images of the disaster everywhere on TV and social media. Community service is not about how many hours you have done—is simply about wanting to help others because you want to feel joy and happiness while doing something good for someone who can do nothing for you.

As we continued to enter the community I could not take my eyes off of the tragedy that stood before me. I looked around inside the bus and saw every single student and adult stare blankly at the images our eyes were witnessing. Destroyed cars in the streets, trees on top of houses with their roots out as if they were pulled angrily from the ground, boats laying in the streets, charging and Wi-Fi centers, portable restrooms in every corner, and children playing as if they had no reason to be sad. For a second I thought I was lost in the middle of nowhere.

My group’s assignment was to walk around the neighborhood and gather civilians’ contact information stating if they needed help in anything or if they needed any supplies. Hundreds and hundreds of houses destroyed, most of which you could find yourself standing on their debris.

Reflecting back to the children I remembered playing, aren’t they supposed to be sad, giving up in life? It is what we expect to see, but this is what makes me cherish each and every moment in my life, both positive and negative. I reminisce on the day I spent at the Kingsbridge Heights Community Health Center in the Bronx. I worked with mentally challenged children my age and the look on their faces it’s an image I will never forget. I kept on asking myself, “How is it possible for someone that is going through so much to still appreciate and live life as if nothing is holding them back?”

You must learn how to turn something negative into something positive and useful. buildOn has taught me this and so much more.