These Detroit Service Leaders Are Headed to America’s Top Colleges

buildOn works in some of America’s most challenged schools – many of which graduate barely half of their students. That’s why we’re proud that 97% of buildOn students graduate and 83% go on to college after high school. At Detroit’s Cass Technical High School, three of our community service leaders are not only college-bound, they’re headed to some of the world’s most prestigious universities.

buildOn students T’Ajmal Hogue and Diego Navarrete were both accepted at Harvard University. And Ricky Alvarez, also a 2017 graduate of Cass Tech, will be attending MIT in the fall on a full-ride as a QuestBridge Scholar. Meet these amazing students and learn how serving others helped them succeed…

Ricky Alvarez — 176 Service Hours

rickyRicky was first exposed to buildOn as an eighth grader, when his older sister brought him along to help feed the hungry at a Detroit food bank. He was hooked on service from the start, but as someone naturally more comfortable in math class than a service project, he also saw buildOn as a personal challenge worth taking on. “Community service with buildOn was a way for me to step out of my comfort zone and developing other characteristics that I don’t get to do in the classroom—like leadership skills.”

Passionate about helping those in need through service, Ricky traveled to Malawi during the summer of 2015 to help construct a school as part of Trek. He describes that trip as life changing. “Everybody assumes that they have it bad until they do something like Trek and have their eyes opened to the problems that are going on not just in their community, but other communities,” Ricky says. “It helped me understand that I’m privileged and my community in Detroit is privileged to some extent and there’s things we can do to help balance all of that out.”

Ricky will be attending MIT in the fall on a full ride from the QuestBridge Scholarship program. He will be studying Mathematics at MIT, and although he doesn’t know what field he wants to enter after college, he sees service as always being a part of his life. “With buildOn I’ve come to understand that there are several different causes that one should be working for,” Ricky says. “Hopefully after college, and as an adult, I can continue to involve myself in community service, and get other people involved, too.”

T’Ajmal Hogue — 305 Service Hours

T'Ajmal-Welcome-CeremonyT’Ajmal Hogue joined buildOn her freshman year at Cass Tech, and she credits service with giving her a strong start in high school. “buildOn was pretty much life changing. Everything about my life changed when I joined—who I hung out with, my focus on my grades and my future, and me realizing the importance of all that—it all changed once I joined buildOn.”

After three years of serving her Detroit community, T’Ajmal went on Trek to Haiti during the summer of 2016 and had a transformative experience. “Trek made me understand that people definitely have it way different than what I usually experience… It made me have a different perspective on what’s a struggle for me, and it made me appreciate the things that I actually do have, like school.”

The experience was so eye opening for her, that T’Ajmal submitted a copy of the journal she kept on Trek as her Personal Statement—Harvard’s version of a college essay—in her application to Harvard. Now, after being accepted, she is debating in concentrating in Computer Science or Biomedical Engineering in college, but has already made one big decision: she already signed up for the campus community service organization.

Excited to move to Cambridge at the end of this summer, T’Ajmal credits her experiences serving in Detroit and Haiti with making her into the person that she is today and the driving force behind why she has excelled in the classroom. “Doing service with buildOn has helped me to be more open with anything that I might be dealing with in my life. buildOn has basically been a platform for me to find my own little community and my own support system.”

Diego Navarrete —172 Service Hours

diegoDiego was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States as a child. He grew up doing community service alongside his mother at a local food pantry in Detroit, and the act of serving others was instilled in him by his mother’s actions from a young age. So once Diego learned about buildOn his freshman year of high school, he immediately became an active member, and his mother was proud to see her son serving their community.

Diego’s favorite service project in Detroit is called Action By Presence, where Diego helped cook dinner for the homeless, ate dinner alongside them, and began to see people who were experiencing homelessness in an entirely different light. “That project really changed my entire perspective on homelessness. Growing up I would see it, but I wouldn’t see the people, as horrible as that is to say,” Diego explains.

By building a sense of community over meals at Action By Presence, Diego fully realized the power of service. “No matter what I was facing, no matter what I was personally going through, I could still have a positive impact on somebody else,” Diego says. “I’m not wealthy, I’m an immigrant, but when I have struggled, by going to community service the focus isn’t on me, and that really alleviates a lot of the pressure that would otherwise be there. Giving back and just helping other people with their personal struggles and not necessarily focusing on mine has really helped me these past four years to not be overwhelmed and to not think about all the bad things in my life.”

Now, Diego is looking forward to attending Harvard in the fall and ready for the challenge. “I think the amount of support—both emotional and actual resource-wise support—that I’ve received from the buildOn group at Cass, that has really prepared me for college.”

Inspired by serving others, Diego plans to concentrate his studies around government or sociology. “Through community service, I discovered the calling for public service. Not necessarily as a politician—maybe a politician—but more so as what I do in the future, I know that I want to be giving back and be creating more opportunities and impacting the lives of different people. Especially people who are part of minority groups or are underrepresented… I can’t ever picture myself not doing service.”

Congratulation to Diego, Ricky, T’Ajmal and the entire buildOn Class of 2017. Thank you for the service you have done for your communities. We can’t wait to see the amazing impact you continue to make on our world!