“Always be honest, even when it's hard.” In this episode we chat with Adam Alonso, CEO of BUILD Inc., about the awesome work his organization is doing in Chicago suburbs to help at-risk youth find direction and how his model is actually being replicated in other cities around the nation.
The number one role for the Executive Director or CEO is to raise money for the organization so it can survive and thrive.
Adam’s most passionate about helping young people see that they have potential in a future.
BUILD has served over 100,000 young people since they started over 50 years ago.
BUILD works with young people by creating a mutual accountability plan:
- What do you want to do while you’re here?
- How can we help you?
- What are you looking to do?
- How are you trying to improve yourself?
Additionally, BUILD put on over 50 community events each year.
Chicago Center for Youth Violence Prevention reports the estimated cost of youth violence is more than $21 billion annually.
It costs $630 to serve one young person per year which amounts to a societal savings of about $16,000.
It costs $2,000 to serve one young person who is more heavily involved in violence which amounts to a societal savings of about $92,000.
In 2016 Adam brought up how BUILD was running low on physical space. He engaged a neighboring company to do a feasibility study. Adam and BUILD had to put together a 10 year projected budget before the board would approve the capital campaign.
Plan to build something new, or remodel your space to add additional space. Typically, it is outside of your annual operating budget; an additional set of fundraising goals.
To turn neighborhoods around you’ve got to give people hope, but not just speak it; you’ve got to show and demonstrate tangible results of that hope.
3 steps Adam took to overcome Capital Funding:
- Be 100% bought in on your idea
- Have a clear vision of why you need the money
- Run the numbers
N Kristock: In this episode we’re talking with Adam Alonso, CEO of BUILD, Inc. about the awesome work his organization is doing in Chicago suburbs to help at-risk youth find direction and how his model is actually being replicated in other cities around the nation.
N Kristock: Welcome, welcome. You’re listening to The Science of Social Impact, a podcast from Crate of Good. We are on a mission to educate and inspire you to make social impact a key ingredient in your business and life. Thanks for joining. The time to make an impact is now.
N Kristock: So it’s 1995 and a young man is working for a nonprofit as the Director of Afterschool Programs. He’s working in a church basement and he’s closing up the church for the day and a young man who’s about 15 walks in, very rough around the edges, looks unkept and distressed, and the kid asks if the pastor is in, the Director of Afterschool Programs says he’s not in, but he’ll be back tomorrow. The kid looks disappointed as he walks away and the Director of Afterschool Programs hears a voice saying, call him back. Friends, today we get to meet Adam Alonso, CEO of BUILD, Inc. In Chicago, Illinois. Adam, welcome.
A Alonso: Thank you. Thank you, good morning.
N Kristock: So let’s get right into what you believe. For anyone listening to this, they’re going to stick around if they relate to what you believe. So tell us about a core principle that you just know to be true after your life’s work so far.
A Alonso: Sure. one of the things I’ve learned since starting out in 1995 is really about being honest. And I think we talk a lot about that today in terms of being honest with yourself and certainly that absolutely a must. You have the first be honest with yourself. Your shortcomings, things you’re good at, things you need to improve. You know, just having that kind of honest discussion. And I think when you share that story of the, my encounter with Abraham back in 1995 I was in a place to be open and honest about everything I thought I knew, and in those encounter with him realized I didn’t really know anything. And I embraced that I didn’t know that. And I think it was that honesty with myself kind of confessing, if you will, to the young man that I wasn’t quite sure what to do made me real. Um and I found that throughout my career, the more you can be honest with things that didn’t work the way you expected them to, being honest with others, it really does carry a lot of weight. And I think it also makes you more relatable and people want to trust you if you’re able to share the truth. And sometimes, you know, we don’t, our truths don’t always feel good. I’m a big believer that sometimes the truth hurts you can course correct and make adjustments and get back on the, get back on track and keep moving forward. So I would say that principle for me is really about being honest.
N Kristock: I love it. So a core principle to highlight that. Always be honest, even when it’s hard, we could probably even say, even when it’s hard, especially when it’s hard. Why is harder to be honest sometimes.
A Alonso: Well I think because we don’t want to show that we don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t want the other to think that we don’t have the answers in particular when they’ve when it seems as if we might have or should have all the answers or know what we’re doing assumptions get made. And I just think it’s hard, right to sometimes say I’m not good at this. And in my role, I think it’s especially important to know what I’m not good at and to bring the right people in to help do pieces that I’m not good at. To help educate and learn from those people who are better than I in certain things. And at the end of the day I think, we’re all kind of gifted with things that we’re great with and things that were not. But when you bring all the pieces together, I think it all works. And so being honest, especially when you know you’re not good at something or confessing that you’re not good at something, it is tough. It’s not an easy it’s not easy to always do in particularly, like I said, when people are looking at you to have all the answers
N Kristock: And honesty is probably something that you’ve learned over the course of your career. That career started 1995 in nonprofit and you’ve been able to work in a couple of different nonprofits leading up to 2015 when you started with BUILD, Inc. Inc in Chicago, talk to us about getting started with BUILD, how you found them, how you started there and why you started with BUILD.
A Alonso: Sure. well it’s an interesting story actually because when you, when I started out in the field in 1995 I learned of BUILD very early on because of their work in the community and in particular around creating a space and ceasefires between gangs when they were warring with one another. And that’s how I became familiar with actually was BUILD. I remember there were times when we were working at the teen center there was a gang war happening in the neighborhood and we would wait for that call from BUILD to say, okay, we’ve got a ceasefire, get your kids home, you know, you may want to shut down program for the rest of the week while we’re figuring it out with the guys. And we relied on those calls in addition to all the great workshops and things that they were doing around getting avoidance, substance abuse prevention. So I’ve known of BUILD since early into my career, so to be here is certainly an honor to be leading this organization that I had great respect for when I first started and certainly still do today.
N Kristock: And when you first started in 2015, what was your first title when you entered the organization?
A Alonso: I was Executive Director and quite honestly in my mind the title changed to CEO, Chief Executive Officer in my mind is equivalent to an Executive Director. And people who may hear this may actually say, no, it’s not, but my range of my work and what I do really is still the same as when I started. It’s just a title on position or title change really is what we did.
N Kristock: Well sometimes we’ll get emotional here. Sometimes we’ll get technical, just technically speaking. Why, why was there a change in title? And maybe if you want to give someone who listening, who doesn’t know the definition of an executive director versus a CEO. Paint a little bit on that picture.
A Alonso: Sure. so we entered into as we were growing, I mean it’s, it, it created a position that was the Chief Operating Officer which actually is what spurred on a changing all of the positions. So my physicians have a change to Chief Operating Officer, our Director of Development changed to Chief Development Officer. And our Director of Finance became a Chief Financial Officer. And I guess I will say this and, and certainly enough to minimize titles by no mean, for some they’re very important. And I, it was also a signaling that isn’t organization was turning 50 and we were growing, we were building infrastructure. We were getting ready to launch some really big things that we wanted to have titles that matched with the magnitude of the work that was being called and asked of us. And so that shifts to the C levels is what prompted that. And we did that about a year ago as we were restructuring and growing. And so the other part to your question is what is the difference between what is an executive director, chief executive officer do? I think you, the way I kinda think of the position is from a technical standpoint, you’ve got to raise money. You’ve got provide vision and direction for the organization. You’ve gotta keep people believing in the vision and following and growing along with you. And then you’ve got work with your bosses, right? You have a board of directors and you have to make sure that you are a peacekeeper that you can often negotiate. And that you can really try to see both sides of the equation and try to find a middle ground where there can be we can come to some agreement. And at the end of the day, I would say the number one role for the executive director or chief executive officer is really to raise money for the organization so it can survive and thrive.
N Kristock: Absolutely. So in your, in your tenure of your career here, since 95 you’ve been solving problems, nonprofits should at their core solve problems. What is the problem that you’re today most passionate about solving in the world?
A Alonso: Sure. I think it’s really, especially now, and in Chicago in particular and where we’re located. And the Austin neighborhood is really solving for violence, youth violence in particular. I consider that my career over 20 years has really been about helping young people see that they have potential in a future. And some privilege to be that guide by the side, right. To help support them in ways that maybe others in their family can’t or wouldn’t support them. And so I think today BUILD with solving for a problem back in 1969 when, when the organization started, which was how do you get kids out of the, off the streets and back in school and the jobs and out of gangs. And we are still working on that issue today as you know, poverty has increased as a disparities and some of these neighborhoods is increasing, gotten greater. But at the end of the day we really are trying to solve to reduce violence. Like kids don’t have to worry about coming outside to play, that they don’t have to worry about going when they leave school, walking home. They should be able to get home safely without worry of, or threats of violence.
N Kristock: Absolutely. So the mission of build is to engage at-risk youth in schools and on the, to help them realize their potential and contribute to their communities. So you said that, you know, youth violence, helping youth has been one of your core missions on the problems that you’re most passionate about solving. Always love to challenge our listeners to think bigger. And I think as in charity as a whole, we need to think bigger and start to learn the numbers behind problems. Can you give us some shape as to exactly a, if your mission is to engage at-risk youth, like how many are there and how many is BUILD able to successfully help every year?
A Alonso: Sure. So I, over the course of BUILD’s 50 years of service, we’ve served over a hundred thousand young people. Each neighborhood that we’re in or were in five different neighborhoods, has a different youth population. So for instance, here in Austin we have about 35,000 young people under the age of 18, out of a total population of about 97,000. So it’s about a third of the community is young and our ability to reach the young people, we service probably about 3000 young people every year. And when I say that let me explain that and break that down a little bit more. So to serve 3000 young people means that we have an intake and assessment we work with them typically over the course of an entire year. They’re actively engaged in our programs. They may be attending, you know, three to three or more times a week. Uh we do a mid year assessment. We work with them on a mutual accountability plan which basically is what do you want to do while you’re here with them? How can we help you? What are you looking to do? How are you trying to improve yourself and let us figure out this plan together. So we can work side by side. Now outside of sort of that level of engagement with young people, we also do about 50 community events a year, and it’s through those community events that we reach. As many as this past year we did our wrapping up our numbers. We’ve reached over 8,000 people across Trumbull Park, East Garfield Park in Austin through the different events that we do in that community. And so those might be light touches, right? We have an event, they come out, they participate, they get information. They want to know more about BUILD. We bring them on board, they get engaged. So when they thing about folks that were touching over the course of a year, as we’ve grown we’re able to serve almost 10,000 folks and by service, I think one could argue, well, if I come to an event is I really serving people or young people? And there’s some truth to that. So are we doing intensive mentoring at that moment? You know are we helping them with their homework? Absolutely not. But I tell you what we are doing. It’s engaging with them. People are talking to young people, people are having conversations with them and sharing with them. Just being kind and cordial and to checking in with young people. That’s an engagement, right? And sometimes it starts as simple as a hello. Sometimes it starts with, Hey, how was school? What’s going on? You know, what’s your summer looking like? And a dialogue gets started. So that’s what our numbers are looking like. As we continue to grow and what we’ve done just this past year that we wrapped up in our years. Our fiscal year begins July 1st and, and ends June 30th. So that’s when our, our years look like.
N Kristock: Wow. So you had, you gave a couple of awesome numbers there. You said 97,000, I think you’re referring to population in that specific community and 4,500 under 18 and BUILD serves about 3000 at-risk youth. So how is BUILD able to essentially serve a majority of the youth in the community, many of which must be at-risk as you compare those numbers?
A Alonso: Well you know, it’s a variety of programs that were, that we offer, right? So we’ve got programs that serve our young kids who are in grade school. And that, you know, first through eighth grade we’ve got a teen center here onsite at our headquarters in Austin. And then we do a lot of work out in high schools with our high school age population. Then our young people who are not in school and not employed, those are the, our older youth typically. And those are the ones that we’re working with to make sure we get them back on track. So the way that we’re able to serve young people is just by having a lot of different options for them. There are many entry points to the work or many entry points to our programs. So it could be through a school, it can be through our teen center could be from a referral. Could be that a parent has come and said, Hey, I want to sign my son up, or my daughter up for programs could be that they’ve met us at, you know, our community center family nights or basketball tournaments or things that we have going on out in the neighborhood. And that’s how we, we reach our kids and that’s how we’re able to serve them.
N Kristock: Hmm. And no question. It’s good work. And some of the research that I did leading up to this conversation. One of the interesting statistics that I was really excited to ask you about and to get a deeper explanation on is the Chicago Center for Youth Violence Prevention reports that the estimated cost of youth violence is more than 21 billion annually. In the first question that I asked when I read that was I wonder what the costs are to youth violence. And so if you, could you explain what are the costs that we probably do know, but probably the ones that we don’t know to youth violence.
A Alonso: Well, yeah. And I can speak even more specifically to, to BUILD’s work. And so I guess there’s, to kind of simplify this a little bit, there’s a couple of ways that we look at, you know, with the cost benefit is and the dollars that we spend and what that really does in terms of savings for society as a whole. So if we’re serving young people who are just by nature, have been born, are growing up and raised in a community that has high incidence of violence and high incidence of poverty, right? Those young people alone, you know, for every dollar that we spend. So we young per se, it’s a serve a young person like that in a year, costs BUILD $630. The savings to society is about $16,000. So if we’re able to reach these young people who have not yet entered into acts of violence, who are just merely, I mean, every day living and growing up in this neighborhood, if we provide the programming that we do for these types of young people, every year, we’re able to save $16,000 per young people. Now, by contrast, if we’re working with our young people who are getting involved, who are just as involved for every, we spend roughly $2,000 a year to serve one young person. But the cost benefit jumps up to about $92,000 a year that we saved society. Our community with one year of service. So when we think about the investment and why it’s worth a $2,000 investment into one of these young people, it does cost. It does. There’s a great savings to our communities because you know, what it costs to incarcerate a young person, what it costs to go through the system, what it costs for, when they come back out and then the arrest and then the rearrest, when you add all of these things up and that’s not even assuming that they’ve shot someone or, or have done some act of violence because someone which when you tally those costs up, you know that that price tag goes up markedly. So for BUILD, it’s our belief absolutely that you invest in the investment is not that large. If you really think about it, $2,000 to serve some of the hardest to serve young people is quite honestly such a small investment, but it’s about the going rate. I would say certainly across Chicago about where most organizations, like BUILD invest in a young person who is just as involved, became involved. You know, some programs will pay more and have more dollars to invest, but that’s probably about average for this region.
N Kristock: Wow. And numbers are great because they tell such a story. And I also love the transparency of numbers. Can you give us the quick version of how do you figure out that number of a $92,000 a year cost to society?
A Alonso: Well, it’s not an easy number to come up with, that’s for sure. We actually had a corporation come out to some corrupt and you may know them, they do the elevators and the most high global conglomerate and they reach out to us almost every year to do this, what they call a 24-24 challenge. So they bring senior leaders from across the globe together in Chicago for training, and then they work with a nonprofit to solve for a problem. So we challenged them to come up with kind of what is the, what is the cost, the economic impact of giving, what does it cost to us for every dollar we spend, what are we saving? So they comb through documents and documents. All of our financials. They talk to staff, they talk with you know, the types of kids, the types of programs or types of services looking at the dollar amount. So to come up with what they did took them certainly their 24 hour challenge and they work in about, they were 20 people who were working on this. So four teams of five and they were able to come up with a number that I shared with you earlier. It’s tricky because every year things change, right? So your cost of living allowance. So the one person who was working with Johnny, a BUILD staff member may get a 3% cost of living adjustment. So now, you know, the cost of serving Johnny just went up a little bit more. Transportation, gas, you name it, all the costs associated with doing business have gone up. And so that rate can change and vary a little bit year over year. But in service of approximate and what we work with and what we say, this is the numbers. And that’s how we arrived at it. Uh and I remember the process taking, I was glad, this is one of the things that’s talking about honesty. I did not know how to answer that question when they reached out and said, well, how do you figure this? And I was like, I couldn’t even tell you. I don’t even know where to begin to answer. This is why we’re asking you for this challenge. Which was good because they come from a very business background and this is the way that they’re thinking about the number. They have a lot of, you know, outsider eyes as I like to call them, and we can say, have you considered this? This is how we think we make it. Makes a lot of sense. Let’s talk about all your numbers. And so I think it was a really good exercise, certainly for myself or for all of us here in the agency who participated along with them. Because it is about how you tell your story, right? And people, you know, the anecdotal stories are great, but there are those who just want the numbers. You know, I don’t want to hear the feel good stories because I know them. I want to know your numbers. And so one of the things that BUILD has has to do, I have had to do is to get much better at telling this story. What’s your numbers in digging into your data in a way that is deeper, that really connects the dots more closely to tell them more complete story because there are those with very discerning questions and those who really want to know from a numbers point of view, what does that really equal?
N Kristock: No doubt, the numbers are so important both from understanding the scope of the problem and also understanding the implication of the solution. And especially in that BUILD is providing. We just heard from you the difference between what it costs to provide the support versus what it would cost to not provide it. And then tremendous gap. That’s powerful story. So you are the fearless leader at BUILD then you obviously have a rockin’ team over there, but be honest with us. Tell me about a time when you had absolutely no idea what you were doing. And tell me about the first three steps you took after you realized you had no idea.
A Alonso: So I’ll tell you, we, so we’re, we’re embarking on a capital campaign and it was back in 2016 as we were starting to grow. I just happened to mention, Hey, you know, we might be getting tight on space. So just kind of planting the seed out there, but I didn’t know what that meant because I had never done a capital campaign. So I wasn’t suggesting we do a capital campaign. I was just asking the question one the board to think about it. But as it became more and more real as we were growing and internally here we’ve had to add more office space. We’ve divided space. We’ve moved out in entire part of the building to across the street to accommodate cubicles, which tells me sometimes when they think about exist, that was program space. So it became real. So the thing I didn’t know how to do with the capital campaign and the first thing they did was reached out to an organization here in the city that does work across the Midwest with nonprofits and figuring if they’re ready to do a capital campaign or not. So I engage them to do a feasibility study. And I’ll tell you, it was a process, the questions, when you talk about the numbers and asking, well, what do you envision and then what, what does this community need and what do your kids need? You know, there’s the staff think and really diving down deep in a way, asking questions that in my head, I hadn’t even gone there. It was more like, Hey, we need some extra space, which we do. So that was the first thing we did after we got our study back circled back with the board to engage them and say, Hey, we’re now getting into a place this is what our three options could be. What do you think? And the third thing I learned, again, not knowing any of this was wow. Being put through the paces. We had to work on a 10 year projected budget before the board would approve a go forward with this capital campaign. Our CFO and I, we were tirelessly for weeks. I remember being here late like nine o’clock one night and my brain hurts. I was like, I have never been asked to sink into the future so far. Think about a breakeven number think about all things that you have to really project in the future. So talking about signed design in space, no clue whatsoever. But we did it. We were able to put that together, share it with the board. The board thought it was great. I felt like we had done all of our due diligence and accrued just capital campaign. So you asked me what was something I’d never done that I didn’t know how to Capitol campaign. I’ll tell you, I’ve had a crash course in all things that you’re supposed to do and not do.
N Kristock: And sometimes that’s all probably oftentimes that’s the best way to learn it just by jumping in.
A Alonso: Yeah, yeah, for sure. For sure. I think, you know, it was a little, it was crazy for me just because again, I can be, you know, I can dream it, I can see it, but all the nuts and bolts to be able to put it together to get there was the one thing I knew for sure that I was absolutely flying blind. And I was saying, well, am thankful that I have a lot of great board members who help us to think it through our work with that organization. I did the feasibility study was a good support and then just the people I work with, we just labored through it and no one, no one complained about it cause we were all, you know, just super excited about the potential so that that energy really pushed us to structure and to get it done.
N Kristock: So you decide that it’s time for BUILD to embark on this capital campaign. And then really quick in one sentence for someone listening who doesn’t know the definition, what is a capital campaign for a nonprofit?
A Alonso: Uh it is the plan to build something new or to remodel your space to add additional space. And typically your capital campaign is outside of your operating in your annual operating budget. So you’re, it’s an additional set of fundraising goals that you’ve had.
N Kristock: Copy that. So you decided that it’s time to embark on this, this journey and you know that you don’t necessarily have the technical expertise yet cause you’ve never done, talk to me about the belief side of it. Cause obviously if you didn’t believe that you could do it or that you needed it and you didn’t have the technical expertise, you probably wouldn’t have even started. So there had to be something on the belief side that to use that I gotta keep going because this is a need.
A Alonso: Sure. you know, the beliefs, the several, I guess I would say just kind of what was really ha what’s happening and say we’re literally out of space on the inside. So there’s a question, do you stop growing because you’re out of space? And kind of just keep things where they’re at or do you push the envelope and say we are going to grow and we’re going to do something big? I think the dream, and in particular when you’re here in this part of Chicago and the West side the West side unfortunately has been robbed of many economic opportunities, has been robbed of quite a few things that are important for young people. And so to be able to build a state of the art teen center that will serve all of community why doesn’t this community deserve that? Right? Why is, why is that only something that a neighborhood that has means and who else should have that their kids should have access to? And I’m a big believer that you’ve got to change scenarios that you want to turn the neighborhoods around. You’ve got to give people hope, but not just speak it. You’ve also got to show and demonstrate tangible results of that hope that you keep speaking about. So to build this state of the art teen center here, that’s 45,000 square feet, three floors, gym, all sorts of arts music studios, a woodshop game room, you name it. We’ll have it all here. These young people in this community, these families in this community need to see that we value what they to offer. We value them in this neighborhood and we don’t want their kids to suffer. We don’t want their kids to feel like they’re left out while they watch. You know, kids from all over other parts of the city have access to great programs, great facilities, and to thrive. And so that dream, while I don’t know, I’ve never built, I’ve never done a capital campaign, I’d never done a $20 million capital campaign, but the belief that this community deserves and our young people deserve to have this as a right of passage for them growing up and have access to that supersedes everything. And you know, I’ll be clear, there’s a lot of pressure. I’ve never raised $20 million again, going back to being honest, I say that openly now someone would say you shouldn’t say that cause you’re gonna make people worry that she can’t do it. For some, that may be the case, I’m being honest, but my belief in what should happen here exceeds the fear of me having never done a capital campaign at a $20 million level. And I know that there is enough money out there in this world, in the city to make this become a reality. This isn’t about what Adam wants, this is really about how we’re serving a need for a community that doesn’t have opportunities like this. And what I’ve shared about this vision openly is that this is for the community. This is not BUILD, this is for the community so that everyone has access to it; grandparents parents, young people, right? We want everyone to feel that this is an anchor, a facility that they can come, they can exercise it and use the gym, they can get workshops, they can come to the farm, they can participate. The art door pavilion, there’s so much that they have access to and do that brings light into their lives, that shares hope with them and gives their young people, this beacon in their neighborhood basically can come to every day. So, yes, I’ve, I raised 20 million. But yes, my belief in that there’s enough money out there to fund something on this scale. And if there are enough people out there who believe just as I do, that it’s a tragedy that young people grew up missing these great opportunities. And again, as we talked about the numbers, what’s the impact? So we do a $20 million investment here and thinking about the young people whose lives could be impacted and positively changed for the rest of their life versus not doing anything. And not that what we have isn’t good enough. It’s just not enough space for us to do even more. So that’s what drives this whole process. And again, it kind of eclipses any of the naysayers or even just, you know, sometimes you get in your own head, you’re like, Oh, am I really gonna raise 20 million? And that for me is allowing doubt and fear to enter. And you’ve always got a, if you believe in your heart that you’ve just said, and that won’t always supersede and should eclipse all the negative and all the things that you would doubt about a process as big as this. So…
N Kristock: Well said to, I know it’s not the same or the same comparison, but if we look at $2,000 a year investment into an at-risk youth helps alleviate $92,000 a year in cost to society, that’s 46 times in the gap there. If we look at, if we’re going to invest $20 million into BUILD, we’re possibly looking at $920 million in potential cost savings. I know it’s not an apples to apples comparison, but just keep with that impact comparison of the work that BUILD’s doing is, you know, essentially possibly impacting 46 times a what the implication would be if they didn’t do it. And so this is a huge investment into, and you had no idea what you were doing when you started it, but the thing that’s one you believed and you were a hundred percent bought in you to believe that in your heart. And the second one you had a clear vision of why you wanted and needed the money. And third, you ran the numbers, which took every last ounce. It sounds like to run the numbers, but you did it because somebody tell a story and they’re unbiased and they don’t lie. And those were your, your three steps. You believed you had your vision and you ran the numbers and you pushed forward.
A Alonso: Yep, absolutely.
N Kristock: What would we be surprised to know about you?
A Alonso: Well what would it be? So I have a couple of things. Like I present pretty much who I am. So I’d never take myself too seriously. I do definitely like a joke, a good laugh. But you know my dad was a gardener and so when I’m not here at work, I do enjoy working in the garden at home. And I always wondered you know why it was he loves his garden so much. And I started growing up, it was like the garden of Eden. We had every flower, we had roses. Like it was this tiny little pot of land that we had attached to our yard, our house. But he made that into this beautiful Oasis. And so as, as a man and a father and a husband, I get why you appreciate sort of your little Oasis. So I like to garden and that’s kinda my time away from everything just to, to make something nice.
N Kristock: Awesome. And you’re, you’re mildly famous for someone who really loves soccer in the 90s. They, when they seen you anywhere in particular?
A Alonso: Yeah, I wouldn’t say it was wildly famous, but in 1994, I was in the opening ceremonies of the world cup when it was here at soldier field and represented Mexico. And I had the distinct honor of wearing one of these huge Brazilian costumes, which were soccer balls. And we had to in a whole opening ceremonies, performance and then representing each country on stage when it was our turn. So it was fun. I was, what, like 22 years old at the time, 23? You know, I’m trying to think, like, how did I even get connected to that opportunity? I don’t even know that I remember, but that was one thing I just like so random and weird that I would ever have that opportunity and it was fine. And so that’s something about me that I don’t think too many people though.
N Kristock: You could never, you could never write it. Could you, the journey that we’d take, never ever did. So
A Alonso: I’m glad that we don’t, I think
N Kristock: Absolutely. Yeah. We couldn’t, we couldn’t write as good of a story, that’s for sure. After all your work from 95 to now and in you know, honestly a tough space to be in where you’ve heard, seen, felt some tough things, is there anything that scares you?
A Alonso: Sure. I, I think, you know, the thing that drives me the most day over day, and I think why we’ve been in such tremendous growth mode is my fear that kids are dying every day. And, and that’s the truth. There was a point in 2016 when Austin was on the increase for the being the most violent neighborhood of all of the 77 Chicago neighborhoods. And it just, everything became crystal clear at that point. We have to deliver, everyone’s here has to engage young people with high quality and none of the BS, none of the soft like, you know, engagement. We really need to make sure, these kids are dying every day and literally within less than a mile of where we’re at. So that fear of young people dying has driven me to really push this organization that has just years of history and work in it to be, it’s best to operate in fire and all of its cylinders and to dream big for these young people. So time, you know you don’t have a lot of times to just figure everything out. Sometimes you’ve just got to respond, get in there, do the work again, because young people every day are dying. They’re turning on the TV first thing in the morning here in Chicago. What do you hear? It’s like the palliate overnight. 50 shootings; you know how many people died. And that was, and it is still a thing that I fear. And knowing that a couple of our young people have been shot and thankfully have survived and we’ve had others, a few others who have not, that, that is my fear is having our young people has their lives cut short.
N Kristock: Well, I really grateful to you for working in that space to to act on that fear and to try to reverse the, the trend. So if you, to close us out here, if you had 30 seconds in front of the entire world, the whole globe gets to watch your 30 second message, what are you gonna use that time to share as a personal message or as a message from BUILD?
A Alonso: Yup. You know, it isn’t messages is don’t be afraid to engage others. You know, that that meeting in 1995, I will tell you I was wildly unprepared to meet him and everything about me was probably raw in many ways, meaning no training. I honestly was afraid of this kid. I didn’t know if he was gonna hurt me. I didn’t know what to expect. And I think everyone, you just, you never know. And so to be open, to engage with young people, you open to be honest with yourself in those moments and not to be afraid to learn in those spaces that are hard in that basically hold the mirror up to your face. So every opportunity that you see with the young person, it’s an opportunity to potentially change their life.
N Kristock: Awesome. What is the best way for people listening to connect with BUILD? Find out more about what you do.
A Alonso: Sure. I, you can connect with us through our website, which is buildchicago.org. We are on all the social media platforms, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. A little shameless plug. We have a great podcast that just was released this week with a conversation with a, a young man who was an ex gang member and the commander of the 15th district have a conversation together. So great story to listen to. And you can find out. That’s how you can connect with BUILD.
N Kristock: Wow, that’s powerful stuff. We’ll make sure we link to all that in the show notes. And to close you guys out. We are going to end with the story that we started at the beginning. So it’s 1995 and Adam, the Director of Afterschool Programs is working in the basement of a church. A young man, 15 years old, walks in looking disgruntled, disheveled, and asks if the pastor’s there, Adam says that he’s out, he’ll be back tomorrow. And the kid walks away and Adam hears a voice saying call him back and Adam yells, what do you need? And the 15 year old says, I need God. And they end up talking, passing on life stories. And turns out that that young man who is named Abraham was actually on his way to commit suicide. And Adam got to know Abraham that day and many, many, many days after that, learned about sacrifice and unconditional love and really went to deep dark places with Abraham and back. And that was where Adam cemented his purpose, working with this population of at-risk youth. And you never know where the next Abraham is, and you never know if you could be the person to help the next day. Abraham, it’s a listening to your gut and doing what you can when you can to make it happen. So we’ve been talking today with Adam Alonso from BUILD Chicago and he’s taught us to always be honest, even when it’s hard. It’s been a great story to hear and we thank you, Adam for sharing it.
A Alonso: Thank you. I appreciate it. Thank you so much.
N Kristock: Awesome. Take care, man.
A Alonso: You too.
N Kristock: Thanks so much for being with us on this episode of The Science of Social Impact, a podcast from Crate of Good. Go make an impact in your world and we’ll see you next time.