TODAY   |  September 19, 2013

‘buildOn’ program helps students escape poverty

Jim Ziolkowski ‘s passion project, “buildOn,” is helping kids around the U.S. and the world get skills that will allow them to escape poverty and build better communities for themselves. TODAY’s Natalie Morales reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> back at 8:40. education nation, one man's mission to help guide kids who want to transform not only their community but those worlds away . fatty has that story.

>> the man behind the idea is this man who writes about why he wanted to leave behind a career on the fast track to form the non-profit build on.

>> it's necessary for a change, first responders and education campaigns, we going viral.

>> this is mo. a 17-year-old high school senior described by some as dynamic and driven. he and all of these kids live in the south bronx , new york, amongst the poorest congressional districts in the nation where many residents live below the poverty line . still they are proud and work towards a brighter reality with the help of one after school program.

>> jim , you started build on 20 years ago. did you imagine then when you started your organization what the reach would be?

>> no, definitely i did not know that it would grow and become the movement that it is.

>> reporter: in his 20s, jim backpacked through some of the world another most impoverished countries. overwhelmed by what he saw, he devised a grand plan to help those most at need here and abroad and after a brief detour of the business world early on in his career, he found his way back to his dream.

>> it took me a little over a year, but i got the courage up.

>> wanting to escape a future that felt otherwise predictable, he started build on hoping to offer that same option to young people like mo in urban areas .

>> we are working to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy through service and education.

>> but mo was at first reluctant to take part only to change his mind after pitching in at a soup kitchen .

>> i realized in order for me to help people i have to engage myself. i have to be a part of something within myself.

>> it is transformational.

>> they contribute direct service with homeless people and younger. we take these same kids to build schools in developing countries .

>> malawi, mali, nicaragua, a few of the countries where they've helped to build schools. 85,000 children, parents and grandparents have learned to read and more than. it's a process that took these students from their south blonks, new york public high schools to haiti.

>> from being there, i realized, i want to become a teach ever, myself.

>> this 16-year-old marlena says she found eherself after build on. once a student with staggering grades. she says she now scores high marks on her progress report and is present in the classroom.

>> i started getting more as and doing more work.

>> did build on sort of help you make that change? did it help you improve on your life in.

>> they give you like a little bush u push, like do more, better.

>> 95% of the kids we work with not only graduate, they go to college and truancy goes down by over 70%. they start coming to school.

>> by being able help their neighbor, it empowers them, then in.

>> it does.

>> and jim told me he chose the title of the book with the walk in their shoes" to show admiration and respect for kids. it's not only helping the kids in their communities, then they are able to go to other communities around the world and help those schools.

>> all right. natalie, thank you