From going with a group of friends to travelling on her own and meeting a bunch of new ones, Emily shares a few thoughts from her two Builds.


LocationDominican Republic

DateJanuary 16th, 2023

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Emily’s first Build was alongside familiar faces as part of a group, then she decided to sign up for one of our public Builds without knowing anyone else. We talked with Emily about her two trips, found out how it felt to visit the family she had previously built with, and asked her what she hopes to never forget from her most recent time in the Dominican Republic.

Your first experience was on a group Build. Who was that with?
I first learned about Builds from my dance teacher, Kelci Tookey. She has been going to the Dominican Republic with LiveDifferent since 2011 and has been doing Builds ever since. Kelci started her own group called Building Dreams, which I had the honour of joining in 2018. It was a really special trip because not only did we get to help build a home for an amazing family, we also got to help build a dance studio. It was an experience that I will treasure forever.

I am so thankful to Kelci for sharing her passion because being a part of that Build absolutely changed my life. She was very encouraging of me to join a public build and I am so happy I did.

You chose to come back on a public Build and mentioned that a highlight for you was being able to meet people you didn’t already know. Were there any specific moments where you knew you were forming lasting friendships?
I remember talking with Aerin, another volunteer, on the bus ride back to the resort. By this time our group was feeling like a family. We were so in awe of the fact that, amongst people who were practically strangers, we both felt the most at home. We described that while on the Build, we were able to be the most authentic versions of ourselves. We felt completely understood by our peers, which is a feeling we have struggled to find back in Canada. It was upsetting to be leaving a place of such love but also comforting to know that place even existed.

Going back to the Dominican Republic, you had the chance to visit the family that you had previously built for. What was that like?
I was so excited to see the family, and a little nervous. I knew they were not expecting me and I was coming alone without my group. Only one of the oldest sisters was home but as soon as she saw me, she got right on the phone to call the rest of the family. The grandson, who I made a special connection with last year, was at his mother’s house and when I said “¡Hola!” to him on FaceTime, his jaw dropped and the call immediately ended. Minutes later he came bursting through the door and into my arms, hardly able to catch his breath because he ran all the way to the house. There was no better feeling in the world than getting to see his smile again.

What is one thing that you’ve learned during this last Build that you hope your future self will never forget?
Every time I talk about the Builds, all I can say is how thankful I am. I am so thankful that I have learned what I have about myself and about life. I came on my first Build when I was 18 years old, a few months after graduating from high school. It was a time where I felt lost and without a purpose. I didn’t see the value in much of anything and I never felt like I was enough.

The people that I have met and the experiences I have had during these Builds have changed my entire outlook on life. I have been taught so much kindness, appreciation and support, and have been given the inspiration and the confidence to create goals for myself that I would have never previously imagined.

I hope I never forget that no matter how much you have, there is always something to give. I hope I never forget how amazing it feels to be surrounded by people who love you for you. I hope I remember that hugs are always better than handshakes, and that there are so many more important things happening that are not on my phone. I hope I never lose the passion I have right now. I see myself being a part of things like this for a very long time, if not, for the rest of my life. But no matter where life takes me, I hope that I never forget that the greatest thing in life is joy—and that people are the best way to find it.

Emily on her Build.
Visiting the family she previously built alongside.
The group during Celebration Day.
Group photo on Celebration Day.