BUILDing a Future: Part I

Natalee came from a lower-income community in Northeast DC. She was no stranger to hearing gunshots, to seeing teenagers become pregnant or turn to drugs. She was angry. When Natalee’s mother had a stroke, she was in a tough situation, not wanting her younger siblings and cousins to continue in the cycle of the neighborhood, but not knowing how to control her anger to help herself. Eventually, she was expelled from school. 

At the time of her expulsion, Natalee was a student in BUILD’s first class. She expected to be dismissed from the program as well. But instead, the staff at BUILD showed Natalee faith in spite of her mistakes. 

Photo courtesy of BUILD

Photo courtesy of BUILD

“Our number one goal is to make sure our students graduate high school on time, and that they enroll in college and persist in college,” said director of development Kamilla Kovacs. “We want them to develop career, personal and academic skills.”

The BUILD coaches and mentors worked with Natalee, helping her find a new school, helping her learn how to channel her fury into leadership. She learned teamwork skills, paid closer attention to her academics, and eventually, she not only graduated high school, but graduated a year early, as class valedictorian. Today, Natalee is a student at Drew University.

She is one of BUILD’s success stories

“These are the type of students many would say wouldn’t end up in college,” Kamilla said. “Our students come from undersourced communities. They are already at a disadvantage compared to their peers.”

Most of the students, she said, would be the first in their families to go to college. They tend to have lower GPA’s, lower test scores. 

So BUILD helps them develop the confidence and ability to achieve through entrepreneurship. The students, under supervision from mentors and coaches, develop actual small businesses. 

BUILD students. Photo courtesy of BUILD

BUILD students. Photo courtesy of BUILD

Natalee, for example, was CEO of her company, We Go Friendly, a customizable, eco-friendly reusable bag business.

One might say that BUILD takes bad students and turns them into good businesspeople. But that’s really just a small part of the program. As the organization’s website says: Entrepreneurship is the hook. College is the goal.

This is only the beginning of the story. Read more of "BUILDing a Future" tomorrow, and check back all week to learn more about this organization that is making a difference in the lives of DC youth.