“I am inspired by the buildOn mission,” says Max, explaining why he’s dedicated himself to serving more than 400 hours with buildOn in his Bridgeport community. Max first joined buildOn as a sophomore at Bassick High School—his sister was in buildOn and he asked her if he could join. The first service project he attended was at a shelter called Feel the Warmth, where he helped serve a meal to people experiencing homelessness. “I saw a lot of people eating together as a community. It inspired me to keep coming back to buildOn,” Max says. “It makes you feel good.”
Now that he’s served more than 400 hours, Max sees himself as a leader. And on top of serving locally in Bridgeport, Max traveled to Haiti on Trek in the spring of 2016 to break ground on a school alongside local community members. As someone who is passionate about writing poetry, rapping, dancing, and expressing himself creatively, one of Max’s favorite memories from his 400 hours of service comes from Trek when he danced in front of the entire village. The local community members were so impressed that they came up to him afterwards and told him that he was a great dancer and asked if he was part Haitian.
For Max, being a part of the buildOn movement has meant making new friends and having fun, but it has also been much more than that. “buildOn means everything—life, courage, happiness, love,” Max says. “buildOn keeps me out of trouble and shows me opportunities in my community.”
This isn’t Adolfo’s first time on the buildOn Blog—in May of 2017 we featured a story about Adolfo organizing a project to knit hats for newborns in Bridgeport. Even though Adolfo won an award from his local hospital for that project, the Central High School junior says that his favorite service projects are the ones he visits most often—a senior center known as Watermark, a local food pantry, and a school for students with special needs. “I enjoy the Watermark a lot because I enjoy hearing about the resident’s past,” Adofo says. “I like working with students because I have dyslexia, and it makes me happy to see that their needs are being met. I like the food pantry because there are many languages spoken and people of all walks of life that are together.”
Adolfo first joined buildOn when he heard about Trek. He traveled to Duverger, Haiti, during the summer of 2017 and became close with his host mother and members of the local community. “On our final day of Trek some of our host families made speeches. My host mom talked about how much she loved me and my roommates. She said she would come with us to the U.S. if she could to see us. We all ran up and hugged her, and that’s when it really hit me…how much this experience not only affected me but the community, too.”
Even though Adolfo first joined buildOn to build a school in a developing country on Trek, he now sees there is work to be done in the U.S. “I keep serving because even here in the U.S. we have issues—we have people who are homeless, people without insurance, and people need me to help them,” Adolfo says. Passionate about dispelling stereotypes and fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, Adolfo feels that buildOn has strengthened his voice and confidence. “To me, buildOn means safety. Community. Expandable. United. buildOn is like the roots of the tree…strong, firm, they help you to grow and thrive. They help you stay grounded. The roots help the beautiful leaves grow. The leaves are us, the youth.”
For Brian Ruiz, buildOn means freedom. “Stress does not exist in the buildOn world. buildOn is an environment free from stress and worries.” Because of the buildOn staff at Bassick High School, Brian has kept coming back to serve since he first joined buildOn as a freshman. “The staff makes it fun and allows our space to be safe. The staff keep the program upbeat.”
Brian’s favorite buildOn memory was attending his first Celebrate buildOn—an end of the school year celebration for all of the service students in Bridgeport had completed. “Everyone there had become friends through the school year,” Brian remembers. “So it was great seeing everyone come together again.” Brian encourages other students to serve because he wants them to experience the joys of helping others. “The feeling you get when you complete your first service project—it makes you feel good and you can see the appreciation on the community members faces.”
Brian credits buildOn with helping him open up. “buildOn has helped me with my emotions, the staff was always there for me without judging, which created a safe environment for me to be vulnerable with adults but also with myself.” Dedicated to serving his community, Brian is passionate about solving larger community issues—like homelessness and also violence. He’s also passionate about spreading the word about service. “buildon is a wonderful yet different experience that everyone should be a part of,” he says.
Jessandra joined buildOn her freshman year of high school, inspired to do so by her service experience in middle school. “It’s the idea that you can help people with just one little action, and some time out of my day,” Jessandra explains. This passion for helping others has driven Jessandra, now a junior, to complete 400 hours of service in less than two school years.
Jessandra says that buildOn has helped her with her time management skills as she balances her school work and her passion for volunteering. She recognizes the value of her own education and wants others in her community to also appreciate the educational opportunities they have.
Most recently, Jessandra’s favorite service project has been visiting a special needs school in her community. “It’s my favorite because the kids all have different challenges,” she says. “When we come, they are all happy to see us, and we all work together as a team to play games.”
During her spring break of 2018, Jessandra traveled to Malawi on Trek. That experience inspired her to continue with service in her home community of Bridgeport. “buildon to me means a community,” Jessandra says. “When you go to service projects, you sometimes see people you have never met before. So you start getting to know one another.” Jessandra hopes to participate in another Trek in the future, as well as continue with serving with buildOn in her own community.
Norris has found a deep compassion for others through serving with buildOn. “I’m passionate about taking care of people I don’t know. I love getting to know new people,” he explains. Norris first joined buildOn in his freshman year of high school. His desire to “try and make everyone happy every day” is what he says inspired him to complete 400 hours of service over his high school career.
During spring break in 2016, Norris had the opportunity to go on Trek to Haiti. This experience is his favorite buildOn memory. “It is one of the hardest things I have ever done….I felt wonderful being on Trek because it was a dream come true to go out of the country and do service for others,” he explains.
Within his Bridgeport community, Norris’s favorite service project is Big Brothers, Big Sisters at Cesar Batalla. Norris has two brothers, who he says give him the inspiration and experience to work with the children in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program.
Norris credits buildOn with helping him grow as an individual. “It changes your life,” he says. “I used to be a bully when I was younger,” he explains. “Now I’m kinder to people, and I am loving.” Through hard work and dedication to service, Norris says he has found a family within buildOn, adding that it’s a family “…you will love with all your heart. buildOn means family, caring, kindness, and love.”
Angel first became interested in serving in his community in middle school. “I did a project in middle school and really liked helping people,” he says. Once he reached high school, Angel continued with his passion for helping others and joined buildOn.
Angel says that while completing 400 hours of service, he was able to to break out of his shell and open up to people. “I didn’t used to talk to a lot of people. In middle school, I was really shy. I can talk in class now, but in middle school I didn’t like to talk or raise my hand,” he explains. “buildOn helped because when I go to service opportunities, I talk to people and ask them how they’re doing. When I go to Meals on Heels, I knock on people’s doors and talk to them. The first time I didn’t want to do it, but then I did, and I enjoyed it.”
Angel’s favorite service opportunity has been with the organization Kids Enjoy Exercise Now. “KEEN is my favorite project because I like to play with kids,” Angel explains. Angel says that working with kids is always his favorite service opportunity and that he also enjoys playing with his younger siblings.
Angel plans to continue serving his community with buildOn. “I’m definitely going to keep coming to buildOn,” he says. “It’s like a second family to me. I like to hang out with the people that come here, and I like to do service. buildOn is family.”
For Rafael, buildOn has helped him build relationships with people at his school and in his community. Rafael first started serving in his community with buildOn during his freshman year of high school. “buildOn has helped me be able to make more friends and become more social in my school and with others in the community,” Rafael explains.
Rafael’s favorite buildOn memory is when he reached 200 hours of service. “I really enjoyed when I got the 200 hour shirt, and when I got to go to the celebration for the hours I had served,” he says. The joy he felt from serving 200 hours is what inspired him to serve a total of 400 hours in his community.
Rafael’s favorite service opportunity has been working with the Yankee Green Team, a service project that takes place during Yankee games where Rafael and other buildOn students encourage fans in the stadium to recycle and educate guests on the importance of environmental issues. “I get to serve and watch my favorite baseball team at the same time,” he explains. Rafael says that he also loves basketball and wants to continue playing after his high school graduation.
Rafael encourages other students at his school to get involved with buildOn. He explains, “I want more students to come out to buildOn because I try to recruit them. I would love if they could actually come out. buildOn at my school is inclusive, and I appreciate that.”
Ajani, now a high school junior, first joined buildOn at the beginning of his freshman year. Ajani says his favorite service opportunities have been the ones that let him work with kids. “Seeing us come in and make their day changes the way I thought about these kids,” he explains. “At first, as a teenager, you think some kids are hyper and won’t listen to you. But then, when you look at it from their perspective, you start to see why they act certain ways. We all have different experiences and mindsets, and service with them showed me that.”
Reflecting on all the experiences Ajani has had with buildOn, he says that Trek to Nicaragua has been his favorite experience. “It allowed me to see different perspectives of the students and the citizens in Nicaragua. We were also able to work together to help another group of people get their kids a good education, which was amazing,” he says. “It inspired me to carry on that fight here in New York City. Most importantly, it built me up emotionally, physically, and mentally to understand so much more.”
Ajani believes that he has received an important education while serving his community. “buildOn is not only about adding service hours, it is also about adding more experience to my life. I have learned new strategies, like how to communicate better with other people,” he explains. “Even the smallest service projects can teach you a lot about yourself and the community. buildOn has given me a lot of confidence and has helped me to better advocate for my strengths and abilities.”
Manny, who has also been featured on the buildOn Blog before, joined buildOn his freshman year, in the fall of 2014. For Manny, buildOn has been a positive influence in his personal life. “We do service projects that help the community but also we are helping ourselves. It’s healthy to get away from our own problems and buildOn helped me do that,” he says.
Manny’s favorite service project is called Bags of Hope. “We are making food and giving it to a person who has a direct need. I don’t like seeing people experiencing homelessness, and living in NYC you see this all the time. I feel bad that I can’t do anything at that moment, but when we are out in service, I love to see their reaction. Their face lights up.”
Manny says that service has helped him engage with his community. “I didn’t care about the hours, I cared more of what I got out of it, which is the good feeling of making a difference,” he explains. “I love helping others, it’s a part of me. I always try to put others before me. I believe we should uplift each other, together.”
For Manny, buildOn has taught him a variety of life skills. He says, “I had so many opportunities learning from the real world. If you do Trek, you’re gaining skills for a future job. Back in the Bronx, you can build a network you never would have before. Lastly, doing 36 Hours gave me real world contacts with people in successful organizations.”
Adhemar first started serving his community with buildOn in his freshman year of high school. He has since served 400 hours, an accomplishment he says he achieved through his personal willpower. “I have so much will to do everything with buildOn, but I don’t always have time. I take every opportunity I can, though, because buildOn is a space where I can be myself and the true version of me,” he explains. “I’ve had so much fun with buildOn.”
Adhemar’s very first day serving was at a park clean up. Since that first project with buildOn, Adhemar has served his community in a variety of projects. Adhemar’s favorite service opportunity has been serving with the organization Kids Enjoy Exercise Now. “KEEN is my favorite service project because it’s always fun playing with kids and exercising,” he says.
To Adhemar, buildOn means happiness. “buildOn is the greatest force of all good. It made me realize how much littering there is in the world. Now, I take actions to throw away trash,” he says. “I hang onto trash until I find a trash can!”
Outside of serving his community, Adhemar deeply cares about his friends and family and loves adventures. “I’m passionate about going out and exploring the world” Adhemar says.