Zenon’s Story: By Working Together, We Create Change
Zenon Montoya, a buildOn student at Benito Juarez Community Academy in Chicago, shared his buildOn story at the buildOn Chicago Dinner in June 2017. As he starts his senior year of high school, Zenon has already served an astonishing 610 hours with buildOn.
I grew up in Chicago and my family moved from the Back of the Yards neighborhood to Pilsen when I was 10 years old. In Pilsen, people struggle with food insecurity. But at buildOn, we are helping to change that by volunteering at our local food pantry, St. Pius, which is right down the street from my high school.
One of the first times I went there with buildOn, when I was a sophomore, we were closing the pantry for the day when there was a knock on the door. It was a young lady and she had a daughter that was five years old. She asked if we could give her food, and I said yeah and I brought her in. She told us that her daughter couldn’t eat gluten. It was bad for her.
Above: Zenon (far right) poses for a picture with friends in front of one of the 18th Street murals in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.
In that moment, I thought about everything that my parents had given me. I’m lactose intolerant. And my parents sacrificed to buy me food that was more expensive so that I wouldn’t get sick after I ate. And here was this mother who couldn’t afford things that her daughter needed. I wanted to show that woman that she wasn’t alone. So another student and I went through the pantry, we went through boxes and boxes, and we gave her a full cart of gluten free food.
That’s the first time that I saw that I could make a change, that I could help someone out. It made me feel so good on the inside—I felt a warmth.
You should have seen the look on the woman’s face. That’s the first time that I saw that I could make a change, that I could help someone out. It made me feel so good on the inside—I felt a warmth. That moment showed me I could impact someone’s life by going the extra mile, that what I do actually matters. That’s when I became dedicated to service and to buildOn. Now, going into my senior year, I have over 600 service hours.
Above: A leader within the buildOn program at Juarez, Zenon served as a buildOn student ambassador when a group of Rodan + Fields Consultants visited Juarez as part of buildOn’s 36 Hours program.
Because of some of the things that happened earlier in my life, I’ve always struggled with anxiety and had problems getting to know people. But buildOn has made me grow as a person and my anxiety is going away. Now, I want to change what people think about Chicago and immigrants and teenagers like myself.
But even though there is violence here, that’s not the only story. People are doing good things. There are people like me who are doing their best to help others and help their community.
Chicago has a reputation of violence. But even though there is violence here, that’s not the only story. People are doing good things. There are people like me who are doing their best to help others and help their community. buildOn helps a lot with that. Now, because of buildOn, I know that service is going to be part of my life forever and that by working together, we can make life better for people in our community.
Below: On top of his service at St. Pius Food Pantry, Zenon also regularly volunteers to practice reading skills with young children at Book Buddies in Pilsen.