Jim Ziolkowski: Building the Human Spirit

One brick at a time, his labor of love empowers lives and communities through education.

A man with a wonderful soul wrote a book about walking in the shoes of the less fortunate. If you took a walk in Jim Ziolkowski’s shoes not only would they be covered in dust from foreign lands, they’d make your heart swell with love for your fellow man. In his book, Walk in Their Shoes, he poses the question: can one person change the world? In his life he’s already proven it.

Heartland Upbringing

Ziolkowski grew up like millions of other kind souls in the heartland of America. Raised in Jackson, Michigan, he enjoyed the peaceful life of small town U.S.A. and all the charming trappings associated with it. Attending Church with his parents was a big part of that wonderful childhood. His faith, deeply embedded in his consciousness, would affect not only his life but the fates of thousands.

College Grad with a Conscience

After graduating from college, Ziolkowski traveled the world, but not like your typical Eurorail backpacker. After hitchhiking around Europe with his brother, he set off again on his own to exotic locations in developing countries. In Thailand, India, and Nepal his eyes were opened to the poverty and desolation endured by over a billion people around the globe. Instead of cherishing the memories of visiting Buckingham Palace, Ziolkowski was haunted by the starvation he witnessed in Asia. While his travelling peers relished the grandeur of European cathedrals he was tortured by the desolation in places like India. 

The Burning Ember of Purpose

Ziolkowski returned home vowing to do something about the scenes of poverty, still weighing on his conscience. But like everyone, he needed to earn a living. He took a job at GE in their Financial Management Program, a prestigious position that made his parents proud. But unlike others in the program he was restless. The scene of a euphoric celebration in Nepal kept playing in his mind. The remote mountain village had just opened a school. With the school there was hope for the future; an escape from poverty. Ziolkowski made the connection of education to hope and knew he’d found his purpose.


“Do Not Fear. Only Believe.” 

Fifteen months into his employment at GE, Ziolkowski left to start buildOn, a non-profit based in Harlem. Equipped with only a few thousand dollars in savings and zero experience in fundraising, he recruited his brother as partner and began on a quest to build schools around the world. During a groundbreaking in Malawi he fell seriously ill. It wasn’t the only setback. Hundreds of rejection letters from corporations kept piling up. No one would donate because no one believed he could succeed. They greatly underestimated the raw faith of this man.


A Small Seed of Faith Moves Mountains

Ziolkowski knew he could change the cycle of poverty through education; and the cycle of misery through service. He rightfully surmised that education brings awareness and opportunity. Opportunity begets the desire to help others have those same opportunities. He also knew from his own faith experience that service blesses the giver as much as the receiver. He wanted the kids in his schools to reap those blessings. 

Watch Ziolkowski’s video and learn the full impact of his mission …

A Harvest of Blessings

He began these service programs in urban schools and as he predicted, a new cycle of giving was born. The kids visited the elderly and cleaned up city parks. They volunteered at food pantries that sometimes fed their own families as well. They mentored struggling younger students. Ziolkowski had created a way for the kids to invert their downward spiral into an upward one. They would help each other soar.


A Non-Profit That Profits the Soul 

Wanting to build on this success and expand it globally, Ziolkowski began mission trips for his urban students. Their desire to travel and see the world could not compare to the passion for service that now ignited their hearts. Ziolkowski’s own vision born from a scene in Nepal played out all over the globe as young kids built schools for their destitute peers. 

A Future Filled with Hope

To date, buildOn’s community service hours total over 850,000. 430 brand new schools are open all over the world from the Bronx to Nepal.

Through his service all over the globe; through scorpion bites and malaria, he kept the faith and fulfilled his dream to impact the lives of people stuck in desolation and despair. Thousands upon thousands of lives have been lifted, who in turn reach down and lift others. For his life’s work, Ziolkowski can expect quite a magnificent harvest.

Learn more about buildOn and the life-changing work they do at www.buildon.org.