Spotlight Nonprofit: Giving urban teens tools to build a better future for themselves and others

LatinaLista – Most people think that just keeping kids busy with sports, music lessons or after-school activities will round out their characters and give them that edge in school. And to a degree, that’s true. But also giving kids something positive to do in their communities on a year-round basis works just as well — if not better.

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In 1990, while backpacking around the world, Jim Ziolkowski came upon a mountain village in Nepal in the midst of a two-day celebration on the opening of a new school. The appreciation and joy expressed by the villagers stayed with Ziolkowski long after he returned to the US.

The experience in Nepal laid the groundwork for creating a program that would become buildOn.

buildOn believes in giving U.S. urban school students something to do by putting them to work making a difference in their communities and around the world.

buildOn engages students through intensive after-school programs at 126 high schools in six urban regions across the U.S. The focus of its programs is three-fold: community service, build schools in developing countries and education.

On the home front, buildOn students give up their weekends and free time to doing service like tutoring elementary school students, volunteering at senior centers, serving meals at soup kitchens and homeless shelters, renovating community centers and doing clean-up projects.

Through two enrichment programs offered through buildOn, participating students get the awesome opportunity to travel abroad to help fulfill the second objective of the organization – build schools in developing countries.

So far, buildOn students have helped build 400 schools in over nine countries and are planning on building 60 more in 2011.

Since 2001, buildOn students have volunteered more than 761,682 hours of service in their communities.

Yet, probably the proudest achievement of buildOn is the fact that 95 percent of the U.S. high school students buildOn has worked with over the past six years have gone on to college.

“It is imperative that we engage exponentially more youth in this life-changing work. One day we hope to live in a world with empowered youth, strong communities and access to education for all.” – Jim Ziolkowski

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