buildOn U.S.

buildOn’s service learning programs engage students in challenging urban areas and show them the limitless power they can achieve through community action.

In each of these programs, youth contribute intensive local service – helping the homeless, seniors and children in their communities – to confront urban struggles with passion and optimism.

U.S. cities we serve

buildOn’s service learning programs engage students in 50 high schools in six challenging urban areas.

Chicago Banner Option


1182 Students Engaged
405,781 Service Hours

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The Bay Area

618 Students Engaged
278,938 Service Hours

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Bridgeport, CT

874 Students Engaged
305,228 Service Hours

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651 Students Engaged
295,841 Service Hours

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New York

1920 Students Engaged
533,896 Service Hours

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255 Students Engaged
18,514 Service Hours

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  • Chicago
  • The Bay Area
  • Bridgeport, CT
  • Detroit
  • New York
  • Boston

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to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations.

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Breaking the Cycle

We believe service and education can break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations.

What students say about buildOn Service Learning Programs:

  • George-testimonial

    “I see these people around me always complaining about how nobody helps them. But I thought, that’s how life goes, at the end of the day the only person who can make your life better, is you. But what buildOn taught me is that you don’t have to do it alone.”

    George McCloud

Our Approach

We believe community service and education are vital to ending extreme poverty in the developing world – and here at home. Our U.S. service learning programs focus on three core activities:



We believe education is the first step out of extreme poverty in the developing world. We also believe it is the first step toward action here at home.

If students are to strive for change, they must first understand the issues facing their local and global communities. Our goal is for students to fully realize the impact of their contributions, not to act simply on the instructions of others. buildOn‘s themed curriculum explores critical global issues and explains to students how they relate to our own lives here in the U.S.

buildOn‘s curriculum explores relevant local and global issues and shows students how they can take action. Local Education focuses on challenges that face their immediate communities, informing students of issues like youth violence, hunger, and poverty. Global Education topics focus on buildOn project countries – Nicaragua, Haiti, Malawi, Mali, Senegal, Nepal, and Burkina Faso – and aim to help students understand the impact of education on breaking the cycle of extreme poverty.

Service is the core of buildOn’s mission. and is the vehicle for youth development and empowerment. Through service, students address problems in their communities while developing personal leadership and teamwork skills. By making a positive difference in the lives of others, they learn more about themselves and the power they have to transform their schools, their communities, and our world. Through service, students elevate expectations for themselves and their communities. The following activities are examples of buildOn service:

Direct Service

Whether serving meals in soup kitchens, tutoring elementary school students, or visiting senior citizens, buildOn service projects connect students directly to those most in need in their communities. With face-to-face encounters, youth develop empathy and compassion. They create bonds that affect their own lives just as profoundly as the lives of those they serve. 65% of all buildOn service activities are dedicated to direct, people-to-people service.

Indirect Service

Sometimes the most noticeable and uplifting difference you can make in a community is to beautify it. By planting urban gardens, cleaning up graffiti, or creating public art, students show their neighbors that they care. Indirect service allows students to make a difference in small ways that can have a big impact on the community at large. 35% of all buildOn service activities are dedicated to Indirect Service.


After learning about issues that plague their local and global communities, buildOn students actively create and implement campaigns to address them. They educate their peers on health issues, they plan walks to promote gender equality in the developing world, and they advocate new strategies to combat the truancy crisis in their schools. In the process, they learn the value of their own voice.

Select buildOn students are chosen to participate in an intensive global service learning experience, where they travel to some of the economically poorest countries on the planet to help build schools. When buildOn students travel to these communities and witness firsthand the incredible enthusiasm for education from children who lack all access to it, they gain a renewed appreciation for their own educational opportunities.

For up to ten days, they live and work with host families in rural villages, forging meaningful relationships. They help dig foundations, make bricks, and mix concrete in collaboration with the parents whose children will benefit from the school.

When not on the worksite, students participate in activities that expose them to a whole new culture. Our students learn that while economically impoverished, these communities are rich in spirit and generosity. They return with a deeper dedication to education and a sense of expanded possibility for their lives. Once students have returned to the U.S. they share their experience with their peers and community at large.

buildOn’s Impact

Students who regularly serve with buildOn miss 2.1 times less school than their peers, and 97% of buildOn students graduate and go on to college.

A study by Brandeis University identified the following outcomes from the buildOn Service Learning Program:

Read the Brandeis University study
Take Action

Make a difference in your community and your world.

Build a Community

Use your passion and creativity to raise awareness of the U.S. education crisis and fundraise to end it.

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Volunteer Your Voice

Share our story with your
social network and add
your voice to the
buildOn movement.

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Donate to Our Programs

Gather friends and family,
fundraise, and go to
a developing country to
build a school.

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