United They Stand

Photographs courtesy of Building One Community
Above: Mariana Grandmont of Greenwich, Carli Levethan of Stamford and Victoria Koenigsberger of Wilton take a break from their volunteer duties at Building One Community, formerly Neighbors Link Stamford

Three years ago, when Catalina Horak, executive director of Building One Community (formerly Neighbors Link Stamford), was looking for teens to head up the nonprofit’s Youth Links Program (YLP), she didn’t have to look farther than Mariana Grandmont, Victoria Koenigsberger and Carli Levethan, who were already volunteering there. “I brought them together because it was obvious that they were each so capable and passionate,” says Horak. “It is beyond words how they have embraced what they are doing.” In fact, the United Way of Western Connecticut has recognized the three as Outstanding Youth Volunteers of the year.

While Building One Community is dedicated to helping immigrants and their families succeed through English language instruction, job skills training and personal support services, Youth Links recruits and trains high schoolers to teach English to the immigrant clients. Under the enthusiastic guidance of the three friends, the program has grown exponentially. They contributed to an educational video that will be used to recruit new volunteers, created a framework for training incoming Youth Links leaders and connected with partner organization Pencils of Promise to build schools in Third World countries. They are currently in the process of developing a Youth Ambassador program to develop stronger ties with area high schools.

Stay tuned, as YLP promises to grow. Come September, Grandmont and Koenigsberger head to college but Levethan, a sophomore, will continue to oversee the program.

“I am first generation American, so I can easily relate to all the people here. My mother is from Mexico; my dad is a Brazilian-Canadian. I could have easily been in their situation. I speak Spanish, Portuguese, French and English, and I think it is important to share my gifts because it’s sheer luck that I have them.

Why me and not them?”

Greenwich High School

“When I started volunteering here, I fell in love with teaching and the feeling that I get when I see that the students understand. I’ve learned a lot, especially about empathy and responsibility. I put myself in their shoes and think, ‘How would I feel? What would I need to give me hope?’ We show all the immigrants that they
have good futures.”

King School, Stamford

“My grandfather was a German Jewish refugee who was denied entrance into the US and [went to] Guatemala. He became a window washer even though he was educated. Because he had support from people in Guatemala, he was able to succeed and founded the first engineering school there. I see a lot of the struggles he faced—cultural integration and language barriers—in the people I work with here. I want to help people in the same way.”

Wilton High School



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *