Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Construction for Change: Building Community, Building Hope

Volunteering with an organization is one of the easiest ways to make an immediate impact in the lives of others. In this week's blog, twenty-something guest blogger J. Renee writes about the work of local non-profit Construction for Change, which was founded by three twenty-somethings eager to make a difference.

In 2008, I started volunteering with Construction for Change (CfC). I was immediately impressed by the vision, velocity, and integrity with which this small group of my peers was chasing a dream to help fulfill the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

Construction for Change facilitates building projects for organizations that have long-term visions for the communities they serve. Because fundraising and building projects often swallow up valuable time and resources, they can become a burden. CfC holistically and sustainably partners with organizations, and provides the aid needed to build healthy communities and provide opportunities.

CfC began in 2006 as the vision of three friends, Nick Tosti, Elijah Grindstaff, and Mike McEvoy. They came up with the idea while completing the Construction Management program at the University of Washington. Volunteer projects overseas had exposed them to the obstacles that face the developing world, and they had met many people who work to forge a better quality of life for themselves and their communities.

After a series of introductions, the founding members of CfC met the Zambian ambassador to the US, Inonge Mbukusita-Lewanika, a brilliant example of the great power that is released when women are educated. Inonge’s sister, Mbuywana Mbukusita-Lewanika, is the headmistress of the local school in Limulunga where over five hundred school children needed a new building.

The Zambia group and Mbukusita-Lewanika decided to give the young men behind CfC the chance to learn and fulfill their dreams.

By December 2007, construction in Limulunga was well underway. The new school not only provides room to learn, but also utilizes an existing water supply to improve sanitation with clean water and toilets. The only resources CfC exported to Zambia were a construction manager and the finances to purchase supplies locally. They hired members of the local community to do the construction and used methods of building that were cost efficient, durable, and environmentally conscious.

Students attending class in the new school in Limulunga.

By the time CfC presented themselves to the public in April ’09 at their Inaugural Banquet, “An Evening at the Ground Floor,” the three founding members had already completed over $300,000 worth of construction and built themselves a volunteer base big enough to run multiple projects on multiple continents.

It’s common to hear the members of CfC refer to the work they are doing as “building boxes with triangles on top.” But CfC does so much more; they build communities. Investors, artists, students, contractors and volunteers from Seattle are linked to school children, mothers, teachers and craftsmen in Zambia.

When I sat down with Nick Tosti, CEO and co-founder of Construction for Change, he explained why his organization has been so successful. “People in Seattle want to serve and give their time for something bigger than a paycheck… Internationally, you can do things within your profession. You don’t have to be Bill Gates. You can build something somewhere. You can invest in a community somewhere.”

Students on their way to class after the completion of the first building.

Construction for Change has now completed phase one of the Limulunga school and a community center in Rio De Janeiro. They are currently raising funds for and building a second building in Zambia, a kindergarten and teacher training facility in Cambodia, a sustainable farming program in Kenya and an orphanage in Ecuador. They build with style, sustainable integrity, and a vision to eradicate poverty and build opportunity for those living in impoverished nations.

After working overseas with a non-profit, J. Renee settled in Seattle to study Creative Writing and International Studies. She takes a special interest in Women's issues and refugees and plans to tell as many stories as she can about the strength and beauty of the overcoming human spirit.

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