BuildOn Is Both Thinking and Acting Globally

By Jessica Lyons


For buildOn, it's not enough to only help students in the United States. This organization is also working with the U.S. students it helps at home to make a difference for students around the world. Carrie Pena, the National Communications Director of buildOn, explains more about buildOn's missions and programs. Can you please tell me about buildOn's programs and how they help the organization fulfill its mission?

Carrie Pena: At home or abroad, buildOn's goal is to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education. In the U.S., buildOn empowers urban youth to transform their neighborhoods through intensive community service. buildOn has 151 Afterschool Youth Development programs at 73 high schools in the United States - specifically in Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Philadelphia, the Bay Area and Southern Connecticut. Students in these programs learn about concerns facing local and global communities, then they contribute intensive service to help solve these issues. Every single week these students are making meals to serve to the homeless, tutoring elementary school children or spending quality time with seniors, and this direct service bolsters the community.

Through our Global School Construction program, buildOn is breaking ground on a new school every five days in Haiti, Nicaragua, Nepal, Senegal, Malawi and Mali. buildOn provides the funding, engineering, materials, skilled labor and supervision, and the village provides a gender-balanced leadership team, unskilled labor and a promise that females will attend in equal numbers with males. Our students have contributed over one million hours of service in the U.S. and have helped build more than 500 schools around the world. We are creating connections that not only improve one community, they improve the world.

E-P: Teens from your after-school program are active in fundraising and building schools in the developing countries you work with. How does this involvement impact them?

CP: It impacts them immensely. They get to be part of something bigger. We're also teaching the students the value of philanthropy, a driving force of service. For many of them, this is the first time they have ever left their neighborhoods, let alone their country. Students get to experience life in a village while being immersed in a culture completely different from their own, in a village with no running water or electricity, while living with a host family. When they see the challenging circumstances of the village and the hard work the villagers invest to build a school, they return with a different perspective. They value their own education more.

E-P: According to your website, 95% of high school seniors who are part of the buildOn after-school program go on to college. What do you attribute this high success rate to?

CP: Once they become more involved in their community, they become more invested in their own development. By staying busy after school, students learn how to manage their time and set goals, which are invaluable skills. When they surround themselves with other leaders who are socially aware and determined to be a part of a positive movement, they gain confidence that they too can graduate, go to college and be successful.


E-P: What are the future goals for buildOn? By 2020, what do you hope to have accomplished?

CP: We just hit a milestone - one million hours of service by our U.S. members and 500 schools build globally in October. buildOn plans to increase engagement with the number of students we work with. But most importantly, we are really trying to build a movement, so our biggest goal is to create systemic and generational change with our alumni, who will be the next teachers, doctors, lawyers, athletes. We are building good citizens through empowering youth, and we expect those youth to do great things.

E-P: How can our readers get involved and help buildOn?

CP: buildOn just launched a new campaign, Breaking the Cycle. The campaign celebrates people who are bringing our mission to life every day through compelling stories, beautiful photos and inspiring videos. Readers can help us break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations through service and education by making a pledge today. To get involved, pledge your commitment to our mission by sharing what you are doing to 'break the cycle.' Learn more by watching the video, visiting the 'Wall of Pledges' and reading about people who are breaking the cycle in their own lives.

buildOn founder and CEO Jim Ziolkowski has just completed his first book, ''Walk in Their Shoes: The Story of buildOn, a Movement That is Changing Our World'', which will be released through Simon & Schuster in April 2013. To learn more about the cause, visit their blog, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, and go to their website. has made a donation to help this organization, and you can help make a difference too.

The Kilgoris Project is also helping increase education opportunities in another country.

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