Building Tomorrow Dreamers Look To Change the World One School at a Time
There are people whom I interview that make me more optimistic about the future of humanity upon speaking with them. In this particular instance, I spoke with 10 inspiring young people, all from the Zionsville community, who, along with the support of family and friends, have accomplished an impressive feat — they raised just over $60,000 and traveled to Uganda, along with the Building Tomorrow organization, to build a school for children in central Uganda where schools do not exist.
Harnessing the Power of Education and Compassion
The African nation of Uganda has many significant challenges in its education system. An estimated 1.2 million Ugandan children are not in school, only 6 percent of the country’s fourth graders can read a paragraph, and sadly, only 2 percent can perform basic math functions.
Building Tomorrow is a community-powered organization that harnesses the potential of local change-makers to connect learners across rural Uganda with transformational education programs.
Zionsville resident Connor Kacena-Merrell is a high school student with a big heart and had some even bigger ideas on how to make an impact on children he had yet to meet and who live on the other side of the globe. Kacena-Merrell and his group of friends shared with me why they had each felt compelled to fundraise and, for the ones who made the 21-hour flight to Uganda and volunteered from June 24 to July 9, why they had wanted to physically put forth the effort to help build a primary school along with the Building Tomorrow volunteers.
“I reached out to the CEO of Building Tomorrow, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit dedicated to supporting education for kids in Uganda,” Kacena-Merrell shared. “I organized 12 of my friends, and together we formed a group called [Jr.] Building Tomorrow Dreamers. We started raising money with the hope of making a meaningful impact. We exceeded our own goals, and now we’re trying to spread the word about our success so that other teens may be inspired to help as well.”
Kacena-Merrell also shared that in October 2020, the Jr. Building Tomorrow Dreamers set a goal of raising $50,000 to help construct a new school and to support a teaching fellow who trains community members to become teachers. The group of teens [ages 13-18] who made this all possible is composed of 13 friends from around Central Indiana who attend either Park Tudor School, Zionsville Community Schools or Carmel Clay Schools.
“We all know each other from soccer, family friends and different activities,” Kacena-Merrell said. “We grouped together in October of 2020 and met together in my backyard. We discussed logistics and how we would fundraise to achieve our goals and plans for building a school. When I heard the statistics, I was absolutely shocked. I’m a big believer in education and its power to give opportunities and transform lives. I wanted to help the kids [in Uganda] that are less fortunate.”
Kacena-Merrell explained that the kids set a more obtainable objective for each to raise $2,500 over the last couple of years and were creative in how they achieved their goals. From group fundraising, planting pumpkins at a farm, making and selling hand sanitizer [during COVID], nannying, mowing, hosting a car wash and even asking for donations in place of holiday gifts, these determined young people not only met their goal of $50,000 but exceeded it!
Arron and Alek Habecker, Zionsville
Arron: I really love the thought of being with friends and family, working towards a goal. It’s really hard to do it on your own. I loved when Connor first introduced us to this and not only for the goal that we’re going toward but to help the undereducated in Uganda.
Alek: I realized this was something we could tangibly do to help people on the other side of the world that are much less fortunate than us. With the privilege that we have — we’re really in a position and are obligated to do something with it. We have to balance it out between where we are and where other people are. And we need to make that gap a little bit smaller.
William and Evelyn Weber, Zionsville
William: I thought it would be a really cool opportunity to help those that needed some help while doing it with people that I know.
Evelyn: I think this is something that is a deeply rooted passion of mine. I think we see education inequality across the world. Because Building Tomorrow already had a foundation, it felt like I could really make a change because there are already supports in place to make this process more feasible.
Jack Parr, Zionsville
I think it’s really cool to be able to help people in Uganda from where I’m at. It’s one thing to help by yourself, but to be able to do it with friends is even cooler to me. And being able to go there and do it ourselves to make an impact really stood out to me. To see it firsthand, what it’s really like in Uganda, that’s really what I want to get out of [the trip].
Sarah and Simon Ngo, Zionsville
Simon: Raising over $50,000 isn’t something you can do with just your family, so it was a good idea to get a bunch of people together to raise the money. And it was a good thing because it was during COVID, and it was kind of a way that we could get a bunch of people together and socialize and help people at the same time during the quarantine.
Sarah: Education has always been something that’s important to me. I think in a community like this, it’s definitely something that everyone takes for granted here. People are always like, “Oh, I hate school. It’s so much work!” But in other places, people are jumping to be able to have those kinds of opportunities. To make an impact for generations to come as opposed to making an impact for just today is why I think education is something that we can really do to impact a community for a long time and is where everything starts.
Kathryn and Ethan Simmons, Zionsville
Kathryn: I wasn’t part of the original group, but my brother was doing it and I thought it would be a fun way to do a good thing for underprivileged people. I made [and sold] sugar scrubs during Christmastime and cookies [for the fundraiser].
Ethan: It’s a good cause, and when Connor gave me some of the statistics, that really sunk in — what we have here and what they don’t. I thought it would be a good opportunity to help those in need.
Now, as Kacena-Merrell explained to me, this exceptional group of young people has raised enough for the current primary school build project [$50,000] and has $15,000 that could launch a second campaign for a second school build if these ambitious humanitarians can garner the support of their community once again!
If you’d like to learn more about Building Tomorrow, you can visit their website at buildingtomorrow.org.
You can see Kacena-Merrell and his friends’ journey to Uganda on Instagram @jrbldgtomorrow_indy.
Should you feel the same calling to assist Building Tomorrow that these young people did, please donate to: https://secure.givelively.org/donate/building-tomorrow-inc/junior-bt-dreamers
Building Tomorrow is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Your donation may be tax deductible with the exception of the value of goods and services received.