Our culture is the reason BUILD is an amazing place to work

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With July 16 as my last day of official work at BUILD, I’ve got less than a month left, and that’s got me feeling all sorts of feelings lately. After the bouts of sadness about not seeing my kids and team any more, I bounce back with excitement about the road ahead, the new people I will meet and the adventures that await. I would say the predominant feeling right now, though, is nostalgic. When I think about the last five years, it’s been an wonderfully difficult and rewarding journey. I’ve worked with some of the most passionate and driven people in my life, and the people are what make BUILD the special place that it is.

Recently our HR manager, Michelle, collected advice from our staff about things we think are important for our new hires to know — to help with the on-boarding process. Before I saw the final product, I thought that it would be another boring bulleted list of HR speak, but I was taken aback by the sincerity, candidness, and humor of the responses. The messages came straight from the hearts of our team. They reminded me about why I love working here, while concurrently reminding me that it was a long (and sometimes painful) road to create the culture that we have now. Below are some of my favorite responses along with pictures from our BUILD Graduation.

I sure will miss this place.

Advice and Insight About Working at BUILD

~From the BUILD Family

“BUILD truly is a family.�

“I’m always greeted with hugs rather than handshakes.�

“Get ready to sing songs – even off key singers, like me, are welcome.�

“You will receive a tremendous amount of support from your teammates and in turn they will need your support and you will want to give it.�

“When the CEO puts on a Darth Vadar mask during a video conference to bring a little humor into the call, you know you’ve found the best organization to work at.�

“Staff lunch is not required but on most days folks will gather in the incubator space to eat lunch. Feel free to join when you are able. It’s a great way to get to know your team!�

“Event dress codes – here at the Peninsula site, we sometimes like to coordinate our outfits when we put on events.  This might mean that we all wear BUILD t-shirts or agree on a color scheme.  It’s silly but fun!�

“All Hands On – when program events are “all hands on� it means that the whole team will be there, start to finish, and are invested in the success of the event.  This means bring your true team-player spirit to the table.�

“Do your work with lightening speed—BUILD moves fast and everyone is expected to get quality work done ASAP.�

“We are a smiley-face-in-email, individualized-thank-you, gifts-on-birthdays, open-door-in-the-office culture that emphasizes laughter, sharing of personal lives and stories, teamwork, humbleness, knowing each other really well, and a shared commitment to youth first.�

“We are a karaoke, dress up at Halloween, prepare skits kind of place.  You don’t have to participate but you have to enjoy being around those who do!�

“Greet our incubator students with a hug; greet our current E1’s with a firm hand shake.�

Seven Weeks Left in the Bay Area

I have these gigantic 3 ft by 2 ft calendars on my wall to see all of our activities and events for the upcoming three months. Since today was June 1, I took down my May calendar, and put up the July and August calendars… And then it hit me. I’m not even going to be working at BUILD in August! My last day at the org is July 16, and I have about seven weeks left at this organization that I called home for five years. A few days after my last day at BUILD, I’m driving down to Las Vegas to spend time with my family, and then flying to Boston to find an apartment. Crazy.

Over the last few days I’ve been trying to brainstorm all of the things I want to do/get done in the Bay Area before I leave, so below is my audacious (narrowed down) list of fun things to do. If you are around and available, please join me!

Fun things to do before I leave

One of my favorite places in the city, Dolores Park
One of my favorite places in the city, Dolores Park


  1. Pacifica Beach Trip: Surfing & L&L Hawaiian BBQ
  2. Napa Wine Tasting
  3. SF Pride!
  4. Mistro (Mission/Castro) Crawl: Mission mural tour, picnic at Dolores Park, Castro Slides
  5. Yoga Classes: Darren Main, Janet Stone, Rusty Wells, Pete Guinosso, Dina Amsterdam & of course, Eric Kobrick‘s Yoga en Espanol in preparation for Spain trip
  6. Golden Gate Park & Presidio: Yoda Statue & CA Academy of Sciences
  7. Hiking: Muir Woods, Mt. Diablo
  8. Singing: Karaoke at the Mint (which is a given!), SFGMC Pride Concert

My Favorite Restaurants

  1. Back-A-Yard in Menlo Park

    My heaven: Back-a-Yard Caribbean Food!
  2. Cha Cha Cha in the Mission
  3. Sushi Time in the Castro
  4. Sol Food in San Rafael
  5. Front Porch in Bernal Heights
  6. El Zocalo in Bernal Heights
  7. Zante’s Indian Pizza in Bernal Heights
  8. Taqueria Cancun in the Mission

New Restaurants that I want to check out

  1. Lucky Chance’s Filipino Buffet in Colma
  2. Mission Pie in the Mission
  3. Thanh Long in the Sunset
  4. Pi in the Mission

Anything else I need to add to this already ridiculously long list? And again, join me!

As per usual during the summers, not only is it going to be filled with sunshine and renewal, but also a lot of traveling.

Tentative Summer Plans

  • June 12 – BUILD Graduation
  • June 24 – SFGMC Pride Concert
  • June 26-27 – SF’s 40th Pride
  • July 7-11 – College Summit Workshop at University of the Pacific
  • July 14-16 – BUILD All-Staff Retreat
  • July 16 – Last Day at BUILD
  • July 20 – Last Day in SF
  • July 21 – Drive to Las Vegas for Faustino Family Time
  • July 28 – Fly to Boston
  • August 4-8 – College Summit Workshop at University of Southern California – Also my Rap Director Certification workshop!
  • August 10-22 – Trip to Spain’s Mediterranean Coast with Karla
  • August 24 – Harvard Kennedy School Orientation
  • September 1 – First Day of School!

Taking the Next Big Leap after BUILD

After five amazing years at BUILD, I’ve chosen to take the next big leap in my life: this summer I’m going to graduate school at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Yes, I’m going back to school! I’m moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts! I’m going to Harvard! 2010 is truly the year of leaping and landing.

I’ll have more to say about BUILD over the next few months as we go through transition — I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve done over the last several years, and very optimistic about what the future holds. I’m deeply indebted to the BUILD staff for believing in me, challenging me and trusting me with our flagship site. All of our amazing mentors, volunteers, and board members have been crucial to BUILD’s success as well, and I would be remiss if I did not thank you all.

And I especially am grateful to our BUILD students and alumni, who continually inspire me to do the work that we do and show me that our society’s educational inequities and problems CAN be solved… even if it is one student at a time.

I’m pretty sure that I’ll have more to say about my Harvard experience as I transition to the East Coast. Ya’ll know that education is extremely important to me — and I specifically wanted to model that by going back and getting more education. Special shout out to my parents for instilling the love of learning in me! And they say it takes a village… to raise a child, and then send that child to college, and then to send that child to grad school. I want to communicate a deep gratitude to all of the people who aided me throughout the application process: Oudete, Karla, Chantal, Suzanne, Larisa, Sal, Tim, Amber, Craig, Kenyon, Alex, Jim, Amber, Sandie, Regan, Steve, Adriana, Elizabeth, Tony, Jed, Richie, Bola, and of course my family–Mom, Dad, Francis & Rachel. I literally could not have taken this gigantic next step without you!

Below is a note I sent out to everyone in the BUILD Family, with a little bit more explanation for why I chose to go to Harvard.

Onward & upward!

Dear BUILD Family,

Over the last five years, BUILD has grown in significant ways. We have expanded into three sites with a robust, life-changing and innovative program. I have had the privilege of working with phenomenal BUILD students, aiding their growth into confident young entrepreneurs and college students. And I have had the opportunity to work with talented community members and partners, like you, in the fight for educational equity. I am so proud of all that we have accomplished together in my five years at BUILD.

This summer I am about to embark on another personal journey. It is with careful thought and great anticipation that I want to let you know that this will be my last school year with BUILD. In August, I will pursue a master in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Pursuing my education in this country has been a lifelong dream. This next step will allow me to be a better leader for communities of youth in our country and around the world. After delving deeper into education policy in graduate school, my goal is to affect systemic, transformational change in the education sector at national and international levels. Although it is hard for me to even imagine leaving BUILD (and California!), I would be a hypocrite if I did not take risks in the way we ask our students to.

The BUILD Peninsula site is in good hands. Nicole Oppenheim, our current E1 program manager, will be the next site director of the BUILD Peninsula site, and I have the utmost confidence that she will lead the Peninsula team to achieve new and exciting heights. Her management experience and innovative vision and implementation of our freshman year program showcase her qualifications for the site director position.

My last day at BUILD will be on July 16th, and I encourage you to please reach out directly if you have any questions before I leave in the summer. I am equally available on phone or email.

Thank you for our relationship, your continued support of BUILD and your partnership in the fight for educational equity.

With deep appreciation and gratitude,


PS – Because of the transitions, we are hiring an Academic Program Manager and an E1 Program Manager at the Peninsula site as well as a few other positions in Oakland, DC and our Headquarters. Please check out our website for more information and please spread the word: http://www.build.org/browse/employment

PPS – I’d love to stay in touch with you: Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter

Letter to Senior Class of 2010

BUILD Decision Day Celebration 2010

To the Senior Class of 2010,

After seeing each of your in your BUILD stoles today at our Decision Day Celebration, I couldn’t help but be choked up with pride. I am so incredibly proud of each of you for the journey you have taken. I want to acknowledge each one of you for taking that first leap with us and this next big leap in your lives. When you joined the BUILD class during your freshman year, you probably were not quite ready for the risks that you would take or the challenges with which you would be faced. It takes a very special teenager to write a 30-page business plan, pitch concepts to a venture capitalist, sell products at sales events, and take trips with us to check out colleges. As you look back, the risks that seemed huge then may not seem as insurmountable now because you have grown tremendously.

By taking risks and working hard, you each have grown by leaps and bounds while running your businesses and striving to exceed academically. But the road to completing the BUILD program and getting to college was not easy. I remember many nights when staff and volunteers worked with you on homework, exams, marketing plans, financial statements, SAT classes or just personal stuff in the Incubator. As you are contemplating the next big step in your lives and preparing to transition from high school to post-secondary education, know that all of us at BUILD are standing by your side. Also know that choosing to go to your college is a moment of empowerment. Let this choice be the first in a long line of choices that you will make that will positively impact your life and the lives of your family.

Your new challenge is to use your college education as a stepping stone for a successful career and life, just like you used BUILD as your stepping stone to a college education. By participating in BUILD, you are equipped with the business-savvy skills and knowledge to lead an entrepreneurial life.

We hope you use the entrepreneurial lessons you have learned for good. As the first graduating class in a brand new decade, you are primed to create positive changes in your lives, your families, your communities, and our society. I urge you to continue being resourceful, taking initiative, and exploring your passions—like you showed me every week in BUILD.

Thank you for making an impact and leaving your mark at the BUILD Peninsula site, and as you know, once you join the BUILD family, you are always in the BUILD family. On behalf of the BUILD staff, congratulations on your amazing accomplishments! We cannot wait to hear about how you excel in education, lead in your communities and succeed professionally!

Stay strong until the end of the school year! We will see you at your school’s graduation and BUILD graduation!



Letter to my Graduating Seniors

So proud of my boys!
Alfonso, Rey, Sean at Sequoia High Schools' Graduation

I’m heading to BUILD’s Second Annual Graduation and First-ever Alumni Homecoming at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont today. I’m super excited because I started working at BUILD when these guys were freshmen. I feel like in many ways I’m graduating right alongside them. Here’s an open letter that I wrote to them:

Dear Graduates,

From the very first day of the BUILD class during your freshman year you all shined and showed amazing potential. Over the last four years, we ushered and guided you through the BUILD program and challenged you in ways that none of your peers were being challenged. Through the challenges of creating a business, building a team, and learning what it takes to really run a business, you exceeded expectations over and over again.

Since then we have had lots of great times—like the amazing college tours to Los Angeles and San Diego, our Business Plan Competition with the Oakland students, and the countless nights in the Incubator with the BUILD family—and also lots of challenging times—like the deaths of loved ones, violence in our community, and other personal struggles—but through it all, we all stuck together and supported each other. When the challenges confronted you, you didn’t give up. You made positive choices, persevered, and defied stereotypes.

When you get to college, know that even though we will no longer be there with you physically, you already have everything you need to be successful. You have always had it. It’s what made you a success at BUILD in the first place. Continue to speak up and advocate for yourselves, and remember to keep that ambitious fire lit inside of you.

Don’t ever forget that you helped to make the BUILD Peninsula site the beautiful, warm, and special place that it is, and you will always have a place here. On behalf of the entire BUILD staff, we hope you come back to visit often or in the very least send us messages on Myspace or Facebook (or the old fashioned email) with tales from college. We are blessed and fortunate that you all chose BUILD as your vehicle to access higher education, which will ultimately give you the tools necessary to excel in education, lead in your communities, and succeed professionally.

Congratulations, graduates, and best wishes!

Waiting for Impact

In youth development work, it’s rare to ever see the fruits of your labor — the actual impact that your work makes. When I was working in my first social change organization, Troy Camp, almost exactly ten years ago, I inherently knew that the mentorship that I was providing was a good thing to do, and it was fun to do. By the end of the school year, the outcome was that we went to camp and had a year full of activities and events with impressionable youngsters from inner city Los Angeles.

The impact, however, was not as clear. After the year was up, a majority of the students who ran Troy Camp lost touch with the youth that they were mentoring, and we could hardly keep up with all of the Troy Camp alumni. There were / are no systems in place, like MOST nonprofits out there right now, to keep track of the clients and the long-term impact that the organization had on the youth. But then again, Troy Camp didn’t really make any promises either. Rather, we made vague promises of a “Commitment to Friendship” and a summer of fun in the wilderness. But back then we were not as savvy as organizations are today–Today’s organizations promise tangible and relevant outcomes and impact — i.e. “increasing the college enrollment rate of low income students”.

And so our organizations embark on lengthy evaluations, both internal and external, calling upon expensive expert evaluators to interview stakeholders, board members, clients, alumni, and staff members, to answer a pretty simple question: Are we making an impact?

This month’s BUILD college tour to San Diego cemented that answer for me, again (it’s good to get a reminder every now and then). It was the eighth college tour I had chaperoned with BUILD, and, hands down, it was the best and most fun one. What was the difference? Maybe I was more alive and more awake to see the subtle changes that students were going through. Maybe it was easier for me to notice their “turning points” or their “moments” on the campus that would forever make an impression on them… so that they are motivated to better in school. Maybe it was because the staff was happier, students were happier, too? Maybe it was the other way around? Either way, the outcome shines: 45 impressionable young minds were exposed to new and inspiring worlds. Now the questions remain: Will the college tour make an impact? Will the college tour motivate them to get better grades so that they can be competitive for these schools? My hunch is yes, and here’s why:

A week ago, Karla forwarded me an email that she got from a current member of Troy Camp, and the email was from a former Troy Camp kid who went to camp in 2002.

To whom it may concern,

As a 3rd grader at 32nd St. Performing Arts Magnet, I was chosen by my teacher to attend Troy Camp along with several of my other classmates. At Troy Camp, I met numerous USC undergraduates, who I will always remember by their nicknames (Snuggles, Fuzzy [sic], etc.). I created a bond with my fellow classmates, new friends, and the Trojan Family. My week at Troy Camp is definitely one of my fondest memories, thus far, and I even tried to attend it once again in 5th grade. Though I didn’t participate in your “follow-up” programs like SMASH, I’m extremely proud of the USC undergraduates for helping out the neighboring schools in such ways. I have been admitted to USC this fall, and wanted to personally let Troy Camp know that the wonderful experience I had in the woods initiated my desire to not only attend SC, but to pursue an education at an academically enriching institution. I am currently undecided about my college plans, but if I do attend USC (I hope I do!), I can’t wait to become a Troy Camp counselor. I hope this e-mail demonstrates that Troy Camp is a great program, and has inspired and will keep inspiring youth to pursue higher education. I congratulate everyone who helps organize and run Troy Camp. Fight on!

Sincerely yours,

Although she spelled my camp name wrong, it was awesome to know that we made an impression on this young woman, and that Troy Camp had made an impact on her life even eight years later. I secretly hope she chooses USC, and Blanche, if you’re reading this, contact me! I’d love to help you out with your college decision-making process.

Now you might be thinking that eight years is just far too long to wait for an impact. But imagine all of the seeds that were planted years ago that are about to bloom. Imagine all of the seeds of knowledge and power that are being planted right now in young social change makers in organizations like BUILD and Troy Camp. In our world of metrics, databases, and spreadsheets, we expect impact immediately. And while quantitative analysis has its place in nonprofit organizations, the letter from Blanche serves as a reminder to me that sometimes impact has it’s own timeline, and we do not always have control over how and when that impact will happen. All of the students that we serve right now might not be able to realize their potential, but in the meantime, we can plant the seeds of hope and create immediate outcomes that will one day blossom into the impact that we had hoped for.

FYI, the pics I’ve added to this post are not of Blanche, but are of the last Troy Camp event I attended — at Disneyland in September 2003.

Holiday Shopping Guide for People with a Conscience

Let’s face it, given the state of the economy, most of us are a little more strapped for cash this season. But that doesn’t mean you should skimp on your values. Here are some ideas for shopping this holiday season that will satisfy both your conscience and perhaps your pocketbook.

  1. Buy handmade – Who doesn’t love receiving something that was made by a real person? What’s even better is buying something from a young entrepreneur. BUILD’s annual Holiday Sales Bazaars are a great place to find unique hand-crafted gifts that were made by teenage entrepreneurs at affordable prices. (Dec 5 in East Palo Alto and Dec 11 in Oakland)
  2. Shop with your values in tact Worldofgood.com is a marketplace where you can purchase unique gifts that also promote a myriad of social values, like eco-friendly production, economic empowerment in developing countries, and animal welfare.
  3. Make it yourself – Awesome site Instructables.com has hundreds of user-uploaded how-to videos for how to make pretty much anything: chocolate truffles,  gift tags, flip book, note cards, and more.
  4. Give money to the recipient’s favorite philanthropy – This is a no-brainer, and always a good choice as we find our lives getting more and more cluttered with presents we probably won’t use. If so here are some of my recommended nonprofits to give to: BUILD (duh), College Summit (duh #2), and San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.
  5. Or how about… Buy NOTHING? 

I have my qualms about our society’s hyper-consumerist nature, especially when the holidays roll around. But I realize that people will still go buckwild for today’s Black Friday retail debacle, to the point that tragedies like this here and here happen.

Hopefully this little guide will help ease some of those holiday shopping blues and will bring the meaning of humanity back to the holidays. Happy Thanksgiving!

Trendspotting: Philanthropic Weddings

I’m going to four weddings in the next nine weeks. As Karla told me, we are coming to that age when many of our friends from high school and college are getting hitched.

I’m really looking forward to Mike and Alex’s wedding this upcoming Sunday because 1) Alex is one of my best friends and we go all the way back to the elementary school days, and 2) they’re employing what I think is a pretty neat philanthropic idea at their wedding.

You know how at the end of weddings, they give out those (usually) tacky wedding favors? Generally it’s a piece of plastic crap that has the couple’s names and the date of the wedding on it. Or perhaps it’s a food-related favor like a bag of cookies or packaged cupcakes. Alex’s idea was rather than paying $3-4 per person for a random wedding favor, she would instead donate the cost of the favors per person to a nonprofit organization that she and Mike valued. She  asked me to help her choose a nonprofit organization or charity that aligned with their values, and after some research, I sent her a list of 17 recommendations, and my opinions of each. The list included some of my favorite orgs like College Summit, Ashoka, and Green for All.

She recently told me that she and Mike chose BUILD (I swear I didn’t twist her arm or anything) as the recipient for the donation, and each guest at the wedding will receive, in lieu of a wedding favor, a little piece of paper describing the organization.

In two weeks, I’m attending Erwin and Coy’s wedding–Erwin is my chorus brother and their wedding will be my first gay one (Go California!)–and they are also employing philanthropy at their wedding. On the back of their invitation, they’ve written:

Because we already have more things than we need, in lieu of gifts we ask for donations to help continue the right of GLBT folks to marry. We encourage gifts to Equality California at www.eqca.org/wedding.

It’s hard not to be cynical at weddings, but given that both of these weddings have the underlying theme of giving back, I think they might turn out to be fun after all.

Mentoring as a form of activism

The 60’s and 70’s were all about the protests and activism. It’s hard not to think of hippies and  sit-ins at UC Berkeley’s campus when you think of that era.

Our generation has been faced with redefining our own form of activism, and I think we have found it largely by giving back to our communities. It’s a key theme on Michelle Obama’s platform as she makes her case to be the next First Lady of the US. Check out this excerpt from her speech at the Democratic National Convention:

I stand here today at the crosscurrents of that history — knowing that my piece of the American dream is a blessing hard won by those who came before me. All of them driven by the same conviction that drove my dad to get up an hour early each day to painstakingly dress himself for work. The same conviction that drives the men and women I’ve met all across this country:

…The young people across America serving our communities — teaching children, cleaning up neighborhoods, caring for the least among us each and every day.

…All of us driven by a simple belief that the world as it is just won’t do — that we have an obligation to fight for the world as it should be.

…And in my own life, in my own small way, I’ve tried to give back to this country that has given me so much. That’s why I left a job at a law firm for a career in public service, working to empower young people to volunteer in their communities. Because I believe that each of us — no matter what our age or background or walk of life — each of us has something to contribute to the life of this nation.

More and more people in this day and age are giving back to their communities much like the Obamas did and have been doing. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Michelle Obama was a Public Ally, which is an Americorps program that trains young up and coming leaders to lead and serve in the public sector with a year of service at a nonprofit organization along with professional development. BUILD has been working with Public Allies for years, and I’ve had the immense privilege to be working alongside amazing allies like Elizabeth, Quynh, Alison and Naomi.

But I think a trend that continues to rise among young professionals is that they want to do well and do good, and mentoring programs continue to be a popular option for people to give back without giving up their corporate jobs. This is the very reason why BUILD’s mentor program is such a success. Not only do our students get exposure to talented professionals, but our volunteers, in turn, also get their horizons expanded by working with our enthusiastic students. I’m not going to lie and say it isn’t a challenge, but seeing mentors really connect with their students is worth that challenge. It changes everyone’s lives; students benefit, and the mentors personally develop as well.

If you don’t already mentor youth, I encourage you to get out there and start affecting the lives of youth. If you’re interested in mentoring our youth at BUILD, check out our website. The BUILD mentor program is a school-year-long commitment from October-May, and our mentors work with our Oakland and Peninsula students in a variety of capacities: helping them write a business plan, guiding them through the business start-up process, and supporting them as they apply to colleges. Apply to be a mentor today as spots fill up fast!

Like Michelle said, “Each of us has something to contribute to the life of this nation.” By raising up and educating our youth, we take one small step to advance our country.