These buildOn Students Have Surpassed 400 Hours of Service

During the 2017-2018 school year, the following buildOn students from Chicago, Detroit, and Oakland made an incredible impact on their own communities by each surpassing 400 hours of service with buildOn. These 16 students care deeply about giving back and have created sustainable change through their afternoons and weekends spent serving at homeless shelters, food pantries, schools for students with special needs, and senior centers, among other service projects. Together, these 16 students have served more than 6,000 hours to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations!

Jackie Damacio

11th Grade, Orr Academy, Chicago

Jackie, now a junior, has been involved with buildOn since her freshman year. “I started coming because doing service helped me to get my mind off of things going on in my life,” she explains. For Jackie, buildOn is an opportunity to improve and care for her community. “I’m not good at talking about myself or sharing my feelings,” she says. “But I am a caring person.”

The opportunity to collaborate with peers and people from her community has inspired Jackie to complete 400 hours of service. Jackie believes that buildOn students can serve as role models within their schools and communities and encourage other students to treat each other with kindness. “There are caring people that are a part of this program,” she says.

Jackie says she wants to travel the world and hopes to one day go on a Trek to Haiti. Her favorite service project thus far is the Kelly Hall YMCA Halloween Day. “It was fun to work with little kids from my community,” she explains.

Jackie says that joining buildOn has also helped her be more open with others. “buildOn gave me the space to open up to people and come out of my shell,” she explains. Some of her favorite memories are with the friends and mentors she has found at buildOn. “One of my favorite memories was going to Chinatown,” she says. “This was because I had never been there, and I was able to go with other members of buildOn.”

Bianca Galvez

buildOn Alum, Curie Metropolitan High School, Chicago

Since joining buildOn as a high school freshman, Bianca seen herself grow and become more confident. “I used to be afraid of sharing my own opinions,” she explains. “I used to believe that being liked by others was a necessity. Being with buildOn, I’ve learned to find my voice and be outspoken and speak my truth.”

When it comes to the variety of service opportunities Bianca has participated in to complete 400 hours of service, she says that she does not have a favorite since each one is an opportunity to “learn something new.” Bianca explains that people of all ages and backgrounds leave a lasting impression on her and inspire her to continue with her service. “To be able to have that interaction with both children and adults impacts me a lot and has allowed me to grow.”

Bianca especially appreciates the opportunities she has had with buildOn to fight negative stereotypes about people her community. “I really like it when buildOn goes to rallies, such as marches against gun violence or the women’s march, or even passing out sandwiches. I think it’s really impactful, and it actually breaks the cycle of stereotypes so that people can get to know people who are homeless, or drug addicts, which are the stereotypes that reduces them to just a single story,” she says. “buildOn shows that there’s more than that.”

Bianca’s favorite aspect of buildOn at her school is the diversity. “I think that we’re really just diverse and have extremely different personalities and intentions. We have different dreams,” she explains. “buildOn allows students to become who they are, all the while working to empower the community.”

Juan Gomez

12th Grade, Benito Juarez Community Academy, Chicago

Juan remembers the exact date when he joined buildOn during his freshman year. “Ever since the buildOn staff at my school changed my life with service on October 2nd, 2015, I’ve started to come to each project.” Since then, Juan has served 400 hours and wants to continue working as a positive force in his community. “I want to continue and will not stop until I get 1,000 hours,” he says.

Juan explains that after his first experience with buildOn in 2015, he noticed a change within himself. The variety of new experiences at different service opportunities have helped Juan learn about the realities of Chicago and encouraged him to step outside his comfort zone.

In his free time, Juan enjoys drawing and painting. At his favorite service project, a center for adults with disabilities called El Valor, Juan brought his appreciation for art and creativity by creating a graffiti poster for the clients there. Additionally, Juan hopes to use his creative hobbies to improve his high school. Juan plans to lead his fellow students to update the murals, bulletin boards, and hallways of their school.

Now a senior, Juan sees himself continuing to work with buildOn. “When I get older, I want to keep working with buildOn. Someday, I’d like to be an intern,” he says. He explains that when he attended his first service opportunity with buildOn, he was “a little scared and nervous.” Reflecting on the time that has passed since that day, Juan believes he has changed. “buildOn means becoming a better person,” he says. “Now, I am a leader.”

Jesus Gonzalez

11th Grade, Benito Juarez Community Academy, Chicago

Jesus joined buildOn his freshman year and is helpful and caring by nature. For Jesus, buildOn has meant happiness and confidence. “That is where everything starts for me,” he says. Before joining buildOn, he explains that he was “very shy” but now feels more comfortable and has found a lot of joy.

Jesus says he has been inspired by his community to serve 400 hours. He sees how difficult things are for people in his community and witnessing their challenges makes him want to uplift them in any way he can. “I have always felt supported by my community and that has inspired me to want to give back,” he explains.

One change Jesus would like to bring to his school is providing more activities that support students’ personal growth and development. buildOn has helped Jesus improve his mindset and perspective about life in high school, and this is something that he would like to share with his fellow students—that’s why he has helped recruit more student to join buildOn at Benito Juarez Community Academy.

Jesus’s favorite service project is going to downtown Chicago to make sandwiches and distribute them to people experiencing homelessness. Jesus says this opportunity impacted him deeply because he was able to witness firsthand “how something so simple can bring about a positive change in an individual’s life for a moment.”

Mayra Gonzalez

buildOn Alum, Schurz High School, Chicago

Mayra has been inspired to serve 400 hours by the relationships she has made through working with buildOn. “It’s the people we serve, and the people we make smile. Knowing that we made someone’s day and knowing that we are helping,” she says. “It’s the people who acknowledge the service we do by telling us ‘keep up the good work’”.

Mayra joined buildOn her freshman year. Reflecting on her time with buildOn, she says that buildOn has helped her break out of her shell and become an entirely different person. “Since I was young, I was really reserved and quiet, and I never liked to take the lead,” she says. “Now I can go up to people and do any public speaking without any problem.”

Mayra chooses to use her newfound confidence to help others. “One thing I’m strongly passionate about is helping people find their voice and being a voice for the voiceless,” she explains. “I believe that everyone’s voice is powerful, and you can do so much if you speak up.”

Mayra’s favorite service project is visiting the Levy Senior Center. “When I was a freshman, I went to the Levy Senior Center and met a woman named Cecilia,” she says. Mayra sees Cecilia every time she visits and enjoys playing bingo and eating lunch with her. “I love that I get to make her day every single time I go,” Mayra explains. “It makes me feel good, knowing that I make her day.”

Gladys Ramos

12th Grade, Benito Juarez Community Academy, Chicago

Gladys joined buildOn the summer of her freshman year. Since then, Gladys has served her community by volunteering at food pantries, homeless shelters, and senior centers, among other places. Having already served 400 hours, Gladys wants to continue to make a tangible difference for the people in her Chicago community.

Gladys’ favorite service opportunity is working at the Envision Center, where she gets to interact with adults with disabilities. This opportunity stands out to her because she is able to get to know and connect with the adults. Gladys also cares about continuing to help service sites such as St. Pius, a food pantry and soup kitchen in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, so that other people can see how important these places are to the community.

In the spring of 2017, Gladys traveled to Haiti on Trek. It is her time in Haiti, along with the variety of service experiences that Gladys has had in her own community, that Gladys credits with making a difference in her own life. “buildOn helps individuals grow into a stronger person by being exposed to different experiences,” she says.

In the future, Gladys wants to continue to devote her time to helping others. “I want to be in the medical field to care for people’s well-being,” she explains. Because of all of the experiences she’s had serving in Chicago and Haiti, Gladys knows that there’s nothing that can stop her when she’s determined to make a difference. “I’m capable of doing what others may think I’m not able to do,“ she says.

Jorge Vega

12th Grade, Schurz High School, Chicago

As a freshman in high school, Jorge was nervous to attend his first buildOn event. But once he arrived, he instantly felt a part of a larger community. “Everyone treated me with respect and tried to include me. I was shy, but even so, the people there would joke around with me, making it feel like a second family for me,” he explains. “From then on, I wanted to do as much work with buildOn as I could.”

Jorge wants other students to know that they can also find the “second family” he has found with buildOn. “A lot of people don’t like to go out of their comfort zone, but if they attend a project and break that barrier, they’d surely be able to feel the joy that one can truly get from coming to buildOn,” he says.

Jorge traveled to Nicaragua on Trek, an experience he remembers as life changing. “Nicaragua may just be a place for other people, but for me Nicaragua was more than just a place,” he says. “It was the perfect place for me.”

Jorge says the lesson he learned from Nicaragua can be summed up in his favorite quote. “Life is about making an impact, not an income,” Jorge says. “I feel like it is crucial to give back to my community, which inspired me to serve 400 hours. buildOn has helped me find the passion I have for helping people.”

Betty Zhang

buildOn Alum, Benito Juarez Community Academy, Chicago

Betty first joined buildOn as a high school freshman and has since served 400 hours in her Chicago community. Betty’s favorite community service project is the St. Pius Food Pantry. “I like to give people food, and if they need help with translations, I can translate Chinese,” she explains. Betty also enjoys going to a local senior center and leading Bingo for the residents there.

One of Betty’s favorite memories with buildOn is the Service Kick Off Scavenger Hunt she participated in with other buildOn students in downtown Chicago at the start of every school year. For Betty, this team building experience served as a exciting challenge and opportunity to talk to new people. “I enjoyed going with my group and getting my team together,” she says.

One change Betty would like to see in her school is the way students treat each other. “In buildOn, we make posters about bullying and respect,” Betty says. This has helped address the issue, but Betty believes that greater change can be made in the future to create a kinder school community.

At buildOn, Betty has made good friends and learned valuable life lessons. Betty says that buildOn means respect, whether that’s to her fellow buildOn students or individuals she meets through community service opportunities.

Jordan Cook

11th Grade, Osborn High School, Detroit

Jordan first joined buildOn as a freshman, and through buildOn Jordan says he has found a family. “I get to give back to the community and meet new people,” he explains. “My goal is to meet everyone in buildOn. I like being a part of something positive.” Jordan says that buildOn has become “so much more” than the community service projects. “We have leadership roles, we partner with corporations. We build real bonds!” he explains.

Jordan’s favorite buildOn memory is his experience in Nicaragua on Trek in the spring of 2017. “I was the first person in my family to leave the country,” he says. “I was able to learn how to adapt in a foreign country.”

Trek also changed the way Jordan viewed communities. “I noticed on Trek that the families solved issues together. They help their neighbors. Nothing is an individual problem,” he explains. “Here in the United States, we tend to stay to ourselves. We just don’t handle issues on a community level and that needs to change to build stronger communities. buildOn can facilitate change by demonstrating the time young people put into their community.”

After high school, Jordan wants to open a youth mentorship program in his community. “I’m very determined,” he says. “The possibilities are endless.”

Arshaun Ellis

12th Grade, Osborn High School, Detroit

Arshaun, now a senior, joined buildOn his freshman year of high school. He’s been inspired to serve over 400 hours by the positive environment at buildOn and his newfound sense of community. “The atmosphere in the buildOn room was welcoming and inviting,” Arshaun says, remembering his first service project with buildOn. “It was the one place I could stand out and be me without judgement. It just felt right without forcing it.”

Arshaun’s favorite memory with buildOn is his time in Haiti on Trek in the spring of 2018. “It was a new experience to me. I was able to connect with people from another culture and grow as a person,” he explains. “I played UNO with my host family, and the last day they carried my bags for me. To have that type of support during an emotional time meant a lot.”

Within his own community in Detroit, Arshaun is passionate about creating sustainable change. “buildOn is the way I can reach my community and provide something people need. I can help and care for others,” he says. He believes that by working together, his community can grow. He explains, “I want people to be more productive. Be a part of the change. To hope for better. buildOn can demonstrate what can be done to achieve our goals as one.”

Reflecting on how he has changed since joining buildOn his freshman year, Arshaun says, “I’m a lot more social, and I doubt myself less. buildOn has allowed me step outside of myself and push forward. It continues to help me grow.”

Jhamir Price

12th Grade, Osborn High School, Detroit

After serving 400 hours, Jhamir plans to continue to serve his community through buildOn. His goal is to surpass 900 hours of service so that he will be able to travel to another buildOn city and serve alongside buildOn students in Boston, Bridgeport, the Bronx, Chicago, or Oakland. “I have the best Service Learning Program Manager and Coordinator in the world. They are helping me get to 900 hours, and I really want to travel to another region and serve,” he says.

Jhamir says that volunteering and caring for others is a part of his identity. “I am a very motivated person and strive to motivate others to be better. I will not stop until a person realizes their true potential,” he explains. “buildOn has given me the opportunity to simply do what I love.”

One change Jhamir would like to see in his community is an improvement in the safety of his school. “I want to have a safe environment for people to learn in, to be able to come to school and not worry about if I am safe.” Jhamir believes that buildOn can serve a role in this goal. “buildOn gives students the ability to place energy into something positive and allows them to grow beyond their community’s circumstances,” he explains.

For Jhamir, serving with buildOn has been an opportunity to follow his passions and spend time in a compassionate environment. “buildOn has allowed me to spend more time in a positive setting,” he says. “buildOn is one of those once-in-a-lifetime programs that can change your life and perspective as a whole.”

Cameron Townsend

11th Grade, Western International High School, Detroit

Cameron joined buildOn his freshman year of high school. He has been inspired to serve 400 hours by his love of meeting new people and caring for others. Since his first service opportunity with buildOn, Cameron says he has grown as an individual. “Low confidence and low self-esteem are dwindling things for me,” he explains. “I am a nice person who tries his best to make the world a little bit better.”

Cameron’s favorite service opportunity is helping at the Delray Senior Center. “I love spending time with the elderly and playing Bingo,” he explains. Cameron is passionate about his service work and achieving equal rights for all, and he believes that community engagement is key to making positive change. “More people being active and caring for the community is good thing,” he explains.

Cameron encourages other students to get involved in their community through buildOn. “It’s the safest, easiest, and most fun way to serve. Plus you get to meet new people!”

“buildOn is like a second home,” Cameron says, reflecting on his years in service learning and education organization. “buildOn is more of a feeling rather than a meaning. It’s a way to belong.”

Alexander Feng

buildOn Alum, Oakland High School, Oakland

Alexander joined buildOn at Oakland High School at the beginning of his sophomore year. “buildOn is like a family to me. I get to be open and have fun while helping out people that need help,” he explains. Alexander’s favorite service projects are when students from across Oakland come together to give back. “I get to meet a lot of different people,” he says. “It is the people and getting outside the house that makes it fun.”

One change Alexander would like to see in his school is a deeper sense of community. “I wish in my school that there was more involvement and connections between people. Too often it is that we just hold ourselves back and isolate ourselves,” he says. “I think buildOn is providing an avenue for the younger people to get together so that in the future, more students will have a network and a support system.”

Reflecting on how he has changed through his 400 hours of service, Alexander says, “buildOn helped me be more proactive in my community. Before I just did things for myself. I was never outside doing things for other people.” Now, Alexander has a deep appreciation for the impact that groups of people can make when they work together. “I’m passionate about helping others and never seeing your accomplishments as a sole product of yourself. You have people who helped you get there.”

Vien Khong

buildOn Alum, Oakland High School, Oakland

Vien got involved with buildOn during his junior year of high school when he attended a service project with one of his friends. “My friend asked me to sign up for a service project. Then he left, and I was there all alone, but it gave me a purpose to talk to people,” he says. “Now I do everything in my power to recruit people, and I tell my sister to get involved.”

For Vien, his sister’s involvement in buildOn has been an important part of his experience. “My favorite buildOn memory was working with my sister this year and how she impacted a lot people around her,” he says. “Honestly, just watching her grow into the person she is now is one of my favorite memories.”

Vien has been able to pursue his desire to help others through serving his community. “One of my greatest passions is probably working with kids and families that have difficult situations,” he explains. “It really inspires me to pursue a career in social work.”

Vien is in the public health academy at his school, and this opportunity lets him explore the public health sector as a serious career interest. “At first I said I’m not trying to be a doctor, I’m not trying to be a nurse,” he says. “But there’s this other aspect of public health—community—and I really think that connects with buildOn.”

Vien feels that buildOn has helped him open up to other people and meet people he wouldn’t have met otherwise. “It is rewarding to go out in the community. It is rewarding to get to know your peers, people you’ve never talked to before,” he says. “It is really rewarding and there are multiple experiences to learn from. It is all voluntary. It is up to you.”

Carter Saechao

11th Grade, Oakland High School, Oakland

Carter, now a junior, first joined buildOn to explore opportunities at his high school. “The first time I went to buildOn, it was by myself to the buildOn meeting,” he says. “I just kind of went on my own because I wanted to join more activities at my high school. Then I started to love it.”

Carter believes in the importance of service and civic engagement. “It’s just a thing where I always keep on telling myself if you’re going to live in a community you should give back. And I always encourage students to give back to their community,” he says. It is this belief that inspired him to serve 400 hours in his own community in Oakland, California.

Carter encourages other people in his school to get involved in the buildOn program. “I want people to know buildOn is helping you do community service and is also a way to explore your community,” he says. Carter also believes that community service helps students become active problem-solvers. “Through service you can find out about community problems, what you can do to help, and what you can do to socialize more outside of your school,” he explains.

For Carter, buildOn has especially given him the opportunity to meet new people. “Socializing is my passion, meeting new people and getting to know people is an important part of being a human,” he says. “buildon has really impacted my life and especially the people in it.”

Kaleyah Valley

12th Grade, Coliseum College Preparatory Academy, Oakland

Kaleyah joined buildOn her freshman year of as part of the social justice pathway at her high school. Kaleyah’s favorite memory with buildOn is volunteering on Earth Day at Dimond Park and having the opportunity to be with friends while serving the community. “buildOn a great way to spend time with your friends while also making change,” she says. “You feel accomplished after completing projects, and I like spending time with people I care about through service.”

Going forward, Kaleyah believes that service can improve the conditions of her community. “I want to change how polluted my community is,” she says. “If people are involved with environmental beautification, they would be less likely to contribute to the destruction of our community.”

Kaleyah’s desire to help the environment stems from her connection with nature. “I didn’t have any sort of connection to the nature, and I didn’t like to hike before joining buildOn,” she explains. “Now, I am slowly becoming more connected to nature, and I even led my first hike in Angel Island during a reunion with my Haiti Trek group in February. I also helped plan a three day, two night camping trip for the same group in November.”

Kaleyah hopes to serve as a role model for other members of her community. “I’m passionate about being a positive role model for younger people because there are kids who don’t have a positive role model or anyone to help them grow,” she explains. “I want to be that person for those who don’t have one.”

Join Us