Shahriar — STORY DRAFT

“Would you help someone for a price? Or would you help someone out of the kindness of your heart?”

Shahriar Alam wants to know.

Shahriar, an eleventh grader at Cass Technical High School in Detroit, joined buildOn two years ago. He’s currently an officer with the buildOn program at his school and regularly participates in service projects.

His interest in giving back started well before he joined buildOn. Shahriar was born in Bangladesh, a country that has its fair share of problems despite significant economic strides. Shahriar says that his parents wanted to give their children more hope and opportunities for their future than they would have while still living in Bangladesh. They moved to the United States about 14 years ago.

He has vivid memories from Bangladesh when people would come to the family’s home asking for food. They would bang on the windows and doors and cry out for any sort of help.

Shahriar is still shaken by the memory to this day — both the cries of people in need as well as his personal frustrations.

“I would run to my mom and just scream at her to give them something, anything, but she would just tell them to go away,” he said. “Or just ignore it.”

He think he was about three-years-old at the time.

Sometimes, if he was able to, Shahriar says he would sneak small food items to the people, liked canned goods or fish. Today, and he sometimes chokes up a bit at the thought, he continually realizes how the cycle of homelessness, hunger and poverty also exists in his own community in Detroit.

Since joining buildOn, Shahriar likes being able to connect with other members of his community. His anecdotes are endless. There are the students at a math tutoring program who look up to him as a brother-figure. When he was young, he received help from the same program where he now volunteers. There was an old woman who told him about her son who never returned from the military. Shahriar used their conversation as an opportunity to comfort her and reflect on the ways that he’s able to be there for others in need.

Shahriar remembers a time last year when he was walking down the street with friends after swim practice when a homeless man asked the group for help. When Shahriar’s friend questioned why he spoke to the man, Shahriar responded simply, “because he asked us.”

“I gave him ten dollars and my friends decided to give him something too and gave him money too. The guy started crying and said thank you and that no one had given him anything for weeks,” he said.

Those emotional moments keep Shahriar going if he ever questions if he is making a difference. He sometimes feels isolated because of his intense desire to give back to others that may not be matched by his family or community. He is excited though because his younger sister recently joined buildOn. He plans to encourage her to come to as many projects as possible so she can also take advantage of after school opportunities. He also admits to having something of a rocky relationship with his family when it comes to giving back, but he understands where their fears come from.

“My mom told me one time that her mom would help many others, but because of that they didn’t have enough food in the house. I think she got really worried, thinking that would happen and she really wants to take care of our family.”

His goal now is to keep encouraging others to give to their communities and view all people in the same way.

“Take the homeless. They are the same people we might talk to every day, they just don’t have a home or don’t have food,” he said. “There’s a movie reference where a kid would help one person and pass on the message to help three other people. It’s a chain reaction. We’re doing that at Cass.”