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Student Voices

We could go on and on about our innovative programs and theory of change. But in reality, our students’ stories best illustrate our impact.

BELINDA   |   ANDREW   |   DIANA   |   FLOR   |   ANDREA


In eighth grade, Andrew sold drugs and drank regularly. His friends began to drop out. His future seemed dim. But when Andrew learned of BUILD as a freshman, he decided to stay in high school, excited by the prospect of “earning money legally,” he said. His grades hovered at a 1.0 during his freshmen year—but with support from his academic tutors, business mentors and the BUILD staff, Andrew raised his GPA to a 3.2.

Andrew graduated in June and in the fall will attend Notre Dame de Namur University. He wants to study psychology. “I was lucky enough to find BUILD and get a new family that gave me the opportunity to change. BUILD has allowed us to stop living the life in the fast lane to nowhere and instead get on a path to somewhere – college. It lets us become role models in our community.”


Flor is one of seven children born to parents who never graduated from high school. Flor and her siblings all live with her mother, but she is only home from work between midnight and 6 a.m. So, Flor makes food for her family and helps care for her siblings, including one who has special needs.

Yet this has not stopped Flor from achieving her goals. She is determined to become college eligible and create a better future for herself. Last year, she rode the bus and walked to the BUILD Incubator at least three days a week to take advantage of the free tutoring resources the program offers, all while managing the finances for her business team, Sweet Flames, an all-female team that makes homemade decorative candles snazzy enough for special occasions. The journey to BUILD from her high school and then home at night is over a two hour round trip.

Flor earned a 3.0 college prep grade point average last semester, took courses over the summer, and is now on track to meet her college eligibility requirements. She looks to her teachers and the staff members at BUILD for inspiration and for support in reaching her academic goals so that she can succeed in college in become a pediatrician.


Andrea is a first generation college student and graduated from high school a year early. This month, she will enroll in Trinity College in Washington, D.C.

Andrea was the CEO of Young Jewlez, a t-shirt company that printed customized shirts intended to empower women. The shirts featured Andrea’s original poetry that she writes about women’s and youth empowerment. When she first started BUILD, Andrea was quiet, shy and didn’t speak up much. Now Andrea is more outspoken, asks lots of questions, and has learned how to advocate for herself. She has often cited BUILD as a true inspiration for why she decided to go to college. It wasn’t until her first fall college tour with BUILD when she set foot on North Carolina State’s campus, that she realized that she wanted to go to college. In her own words: “I had never been to a college away from the District of Columbia prior to these tours, so to have an experience like that was really worthwhile. I can honestly tell you that BUILD has been an amazing experience, but also a challenging one.”

Andrea grew up in Southeast D.C., one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city. Her brother was shot at an early age, and she watched all of her peers get pregnant, ditch school, or “get locked up in the system.” So she knew early on that she wanted better a better life for herself, but didn’t quite know how or what that could mean. BUILD helped her make it possible.



Belinda just graduated from high school. As a freshman, she was defiant. If she decided to come to class, she was reliably disruptive. Her BUILD teachers weren’t sure she would make it past the ninth grade. But sophomore year rolled around, and Belinda showed up at the Oakland Youth Business and Academic Incubator, excited to launch her business, Bubbletaztiks, which the previous year placed first at the Youth Business Plan Competition. But the day before Thanksgiving, Belinda called the Incubator late one evening, crying because she was thrown out of her house and had nowhere to go. BUILD staff ensured she had clean clothes and a safe place to stay. For the next two years, she would live with a relative in the North Bay and take long bus rides back to Oakland—on school days getting on the bus at 5 a.m. Throughout, BUILD encouraged Belinda’s tenacious spirit, resourcefulness and helped her to take accountability over her life by learning about options for unaccompanied minors. She raised her GPA to a 3.0 and after being accepted to multiple colleges has decided to attend Merritt College this fall. She hopes to be a nurse one day.


Diana grew up in a neighborhood where there are few college-bound kids. Neither of her parents went to college. Growing up, she saw how much they worked: 10-hour shifts, 6 days a week. Anytime she asked why they always had to work so hard, she always got the same response, “no fuera escuela” “I didn’t go to college.”

As a result, Diana said she never really believed that she would go to college either. Mostly because she had no knowledge about how it works or how to get there.

When she joined BUILD, she remembers the staff telling her that she could go to college and that she would . "They believed in me even before I did," Diana said.

A senior now, she sometimes worries about paying for college, but has learned through BUILD that there are scholarships out there for students like herself. At BUILD's encouragement, Diana enrolled in two AP courses and an honors English class, in addition to taking an SAT prep class and having one-on-one academic tutoring. "I guess I’ve started to believe in myself as much as BUILD always did."


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BUILD Headquarters: 2385 Bay Road •  Redwood City, CA 94063

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