Breaking Barriers, Building Schools: buildOn's Mission to Empower Students at Home and Abroad

ByMichael Koenigs, Angelica James, Shako Liu Localish logo
Thursday, May 23, 2024
BuildOn's Mission to Empower Students at Home and Abroad
Built on the idea of empowering marginalized youths at home and abroad, buildOn has emerged as a powerful force in global education.

New York City -- While buildOn began as an idea to support school construction in impoverished areas of the globe, educators in the U.S. are increasingly turning to the non-profit organization to provide volunteer opportunities and services here in the US, most recently with New York Public Schools investing over $2.1 million to expand buildOn impact in the Bronx.

Over three decades ago, buildOn founder Jim Ziolkowski visited his first developing country, India. After initially feeling "overwhelmed by the extreme poverty and injustice," Ziolkowski was ultimately inspired when he saw a local community celebrating the construction of a new school in the village.

Ziolkowski's trip to India changed the trajectory of his life, motivating him to foster global educational and volunteer opportunities amidst the uncertainty of poverty.

In 1991, Jim Ziolkowski founded the nonprofit organization, buildOn which aims to increase literacy by building schools in impoverished areas of the world. Globally, buildOn is building schools every two days in places like Burkina Faso, Haiti, Mali, Malawi, Nepal, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Senegal. The organization has also put down roots in various US cities, including the Bronx, New York.

Members of the buildOn community discussed the transformative impact of its volunteer opportunities on their lives. After getting into trouble with the law, buildOn's US Deputy Trek Director Othello Herbert sought a mentor and a way to avoid street violence. BuildOn taught him cultural adaptability, nobility, civility and leadership. These building blocks helped shape Herbert's career aspirations and gave him the foundation to help others and overcome his past.

On a local level, through their Service-Learning Programs, buildOn works to mold the youth into community leaders and change makers. The programs provide services to over 37 high schools in Chicago, Boston, Massachusetts, Bridgeport, Connecticut, Bronx, New York, Detroit, Michigan and Oakland, California.

NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks has been a longtime supporter of the organization. "At the end of the day, when kids go to school, we need them to ultimately understand that school has a purpose. And a huge part of that purpose is about how you take the skills that you developed and the knowledge that you have gained so that you can go out and in fact make the world a better place."

As a nonprofit, buildOn has won numerous awards for its civic engagement and continues to incite change across the globe.