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BUILD Gala raises $300K to fund dropout prevention program for Boston high school students

Boston high school students who participate in the BUILD program meet Senator Markey at the BUILD annual gala at the Westin Copley on Dec. 3.
Boston high school students who participate in the BUILD program meet Senator Markey at the BUILD annual gala at the Westin Copley on Dec. 3.

3rd Annual Gala, with Senator Ed Markey as Honorary Event Chair, honors Michael Bronner, founder of UPromise and Digitas

BUILD Greater Boston, a not-for-profit organization that uses entrepreneurship to motivate  disengaged, low-income students through high school to college success, raised more than $300,000 at its gala on December 3, 2013, at the Westin Copley.  Senator Ed Markey attended as Honorary Event Chair.

“I have long advocated for improvements to provide the best public education system possible for our children,” Markey said. “Therefore, I am proud to support this organization and its work.”

At the event, BUILD honored Michael Bronner with its annual BUILDer Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Bronner is the founder of Digitas and UPromise and co-founder—with his sons—of his third company, UNREAL.

“I have seen over and over the power of entrepreneurship to inspire young people,” Bronner said. “All youth—and young entrepreneurs—require mentors and role models,” said Bronner. “I challenge everyone in the room to get more involved with BUILD.  By getting involved, you can have an incredible impact on the students of BUILD and on the future of the city.” 

Also being honored at the event as BUILD “Friend of the Year” was Dennis Kunian, long-time BUILD supporter and mentor to students. “The dropout crisis is not just in Boston but a major problem across the country,” noted Kunian. “Dropout prevention has been a priority for the President; and BUILD has a program that works!”

BUILD’s founder, Suzanne McKechnie Klahr, spoke about the organization’s long-term goal to address the dropout crisis nationally. “Half a million young people drop out of school every year,” Klahr said. “These students, without networks or safety nets, are destined to a lifetime of poverty and struggle. We know that the model of how we started in Boston can be replicated across the U.S.”

Klahr announced that BUILD was just named one of only two Massachusetts organizations to receive the prestigious Bank of America Neighborhood Builders award for 2013. Klahr then introduced Boston Regional Executive Director, Ayele Shakur, who launched BUILD in Boston three years ago.  Shakur spoke of the social justice issues that BUILD is addressing. “If you’re a low income student and your skin is brown, you only have a 50-50 shot of graduating high school in America,” said Shakur.  “What gets me up in the morning is that I believe that your circumstances should not be determined by your zip code,” Shakur said. “Imagine this room full of bright, creative, energetic teenagers and what a loss that would be to society if their brilliance was allowed to fester and die. That’s not acceptable to me, and it can’t be acceptable to you.”

Keynote speaker Romane Sorrell, an 11th grade student at Charlestown High, spoke about growing up in extreme poverty in Jamaica, and of his family’s economic struggles in the U.S. He talked about skipping school and failing classes. “By the end of tenth grade, my grades were horrible,” said Sorrell. “My mother was so sad and disappointed. I was looking like a failure.”

Sorrell went on to describe how, this past summer at a BUILD retreat in New Hampshire, he decided to change. “The first week of school,” Sorrell said, “I began to take control of my schedule. And of myself.  I started doing homework all the time. I re-connected with my mentors from BUILD, Slava and Shonak, who have become like two big brothers. For the first time in years, I am now getting As and Bs. Thanks to BUILD, my dreams are now goals,” said Sorrell. “I plan to go to college, get a great job, take care of my family, and give back.”

More than 400 people attended the gala, which featured a Student Business Expo, where BUILD student-run businesses showcased their products. Proceeds from the gala will support BUILD’s mission to make college accessible to at-risk urban youth in Boston Public Schools. To learn more, please visit the website, www.buildinboston.org.

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