Voices from the Movement: Eddie Vega from Bridgeport, CT

In our “Voices from the Movement” series you will hear stories directly from buildOn students, teachers, community members and supporters about why service matters and how it inspires change.

I was nervous doing service with seniors for the first time. A group of buildOn students were going to the Watermark retirement center in Bridgeport to hold a Winter Ball, but I thought it was going to be boring. The residents are so much older and I didn’t think they would be able to do much with us.

Surprisingly, it was really fun. We danced with the seniors, we sang carols with them, and we made their holidays a little brighter. When we were about to leave, I saw a man sitting by himself. I decided to go talk to him, but I had no idea the conversation would impact my life the way it did…

I’ve had some challenges throughout high school. I was hanging out with people who mostly liked to drink, smoke and party. I was going to school at Bassick High School, but I was failing out because I was skipping class. I would go to school in the morning for first or second period, but after that I would just leave. I knew it was hurting me, but at the same time I didn’t care. I felt I had my whole life ahead of me to work hard and be responsible, and I just wanted to enjoy my youth. I thought I could just mess up now deal with it later.

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Pictured: Eddie (1st photo at far left) and other Bassick High School students serving at the Winter Ball they organized for seniors.

That was around the time I learned about buildOn. I started doing service and loved it. The vibes were so positive. By the time we went to the Watermark for the Winter Ball, I already had 100 hours of service with buildOn. I could tell service was helping me become the person that I really am – someone better than I used to be. That’s why that day at the Watermark I decided to start a conversation with the man sitting alone. He told me about what it was like in Bridgeport when he was growing up. He told me about his youth, and it was basically like he was telling a story about my life.

He told me he messed up a lot. He did what many teenagers do – have fun without worrying about their future. He dropped out his senior year of high school. He struggled to get a job or support himself, but eventually decided to get his life together. He went back to school to get his high school diploma and went on to college in Boston. From there he started meeting new people, and he got connected with the Remington Arms Factory. He went to work there and worked his way up to president of the company.

That day at the Watermark, that conversation with that man, touched something inside of me. I had felt like I had messed up so badly that I couldn’t ever start over. But, this man’s story made me realize that I could do better. Hearing from someone who lived it, I saw how it was possible to turn my life around. I know I messed up, but I can start over and rebuild from that.

Today, I’m in night school, working really hard to get my diploma, harder than I’ve ever worked before. I didn’t know I could work this hard, and I’m looking forward to graduating. My mom is proud of me again. When she learned I was doing buildOn she started crying. I asked why she was crying, and my mom said, “I can just see that you are changing.” Then I started crying, too.

buildOn is an important thing to support because it not only helps the community, it helps students like me. It helps us know that there is still humanity and hope in the world. buildOn helped me become who I was always meant to be – that’s why I love it.

Eddie Vega
18 years old
Bridgeport, CT