Building a Future
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.
“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.
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.
Current companies, said site director Alia Peera, include Lock-It Socks – snaps to hold pairs of socks together in the washing machine – and Elegant Pet Charms – matching charms for pet and owner.
“This isn’t just a hypothetical,” she said. “They’re doing it all. They’re actually creating these companies.”
Over the course of four years, director of development Kamilla Kovacs said, the students learn both business and academic skills. They are coached for their SAT’s, they visit college campuses, and they receive help with their essays.
At the same time, they learn skills like public speaking, critical thinking and financial literacy. Perhaps most importantly, they learn how to ask for help.
“We are providing not only tutoring but also a wider breadth around professionalism and career skills,” Kamilla said, “that they are going to need to be successful that many of the students don’t get in the communities they come from.”
In 2013, Natalee gave the keynote address at BUILD’s annual gala.
“All my life,” she said in her speech, “I had been surrounded by people who had great potential to be more than they could be. But because they didn’t have the right tools to help them, they ended up going down the wrong path. I am incredibly grateful that BUILD has given me the right tools to get me where I am today.”
BUILD: How I Help
MARK -- BUILD MENTOR
What he does... Works with students to help them understand what it takes to start a business, map out the process and execute it.
His day job... Owns a company that builds online communities for colleges.
His BUILD project... ChariToes, charity-themed socks. Currently in Year Two.
"It's enjoyable to work with the same students and see their growth."
How he got involved.... Through one of the entrepreneurship emails he receives.
What he is passionate about... Education, working with teenagers.
"It's really cool seeing these students push through and persevere. Sometimes you're not sure how much they're into it until you see them at certain moments in the process."
BUILD: Stats & Resources
All statistics and resources cited herein were found on the Build.org website
GENERAL EDUCATION STATS
- Half a million students drop out of high school in America every year.
- More than half of high-school dropouts are African-American or Latino students from low-income neighborhoods.
- Eighty percent of dropouts quit school because they are "bored."
- High school dropouts earn more than $1 million less in their lifetimes than college graduates.
- BUILD serves nearly 1,200 students.
- Ninety-nine percent of BUILD seniors have graduated high school.
- Ninety-five percent of BUILD seniors have been accepted to college.
- Eighty percent of BUILD students are first-generation college students.