By Avery Imp and Victoria Liu, Greenwich High School Class of 2023
For more than five years, Greenwich High School seniors Mateo and Nicolas “Nico” Gigliani Alcantarilla have spent Saturday mornings volunteering at Building One Community, a Stamford-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance the successful integration of immigrants and their families into the community.
Building One Community, or “B1C” for short, provides immigrants with a variety of services related to healthcare, employment, the legal system, and education, helping them to achieve self-sufficiency and success. Since 2011, the organization has served more than 15,250 immigrants from 117 different countries.
Mateo and Nico are first-generation immigrants themselves.
“We were born in Madrid to a Spanish mother and an Argentinian father,” Nico said. “Arriving in this unfamiliar land, the first people to welcome our family into our new home was the immigrant community…I am filled with gratitude to know that we have been blessed enough to be able to provide that outreached set of hands to so many others.”
The twins distinguished themselves as leaders throughout their time volunteering with the English Language Learning (ELL) classes. Beginning in seventh grade, they served as youth volunteer tutors. In this role, they were paired with a student or group of students to teach them English.
“We’d be paired with a person, two people, or sometimes a class of students from all different levels—from basic to level 4 (the most advanced level) from all over the world, and basically for an hour and a half our job was to teach them English in any capacity that they could learn,” Nico said.
Not only do Mateo and Nico teach English, but they also give the students a sense of community and comfort.
“Our job is as much providing the students with educational English help as it is providing a zone of comfort for a lot of these local immigrants who are in a country completely unknown to them. Typically, the only people they have in the community is their close family. Some even come without. It’s important for us to establish a community that is lively and welcoming for all the immigrants in the Stamford area,” Mateo explained.
Hearing the personal experiences of their students has allowed Mateo and Nico to truly appreciate the importance of the work that they do.
“There was this guy—I believe his name was Lucas—and he was a Brazilian man in his mid-20s… He told us stories about the really dangerous lives of crime around him and how his being [in the B1C building] was such a big thing for him because it meant that he could finally shake off the life of crime that once surrounded him. Now he’s in a place that—even though it’s scary because it’s unfamiliar—it’s safe at the same time,” Mateo said, adding, “I think that was one of the first moments when I started appreciating our work there and our impact because we’re really able to create a massive change in a lot of lives.”
As sophomores, the twin brothers were promoted to Youth Leaders of the Youth Group. While they continued to directly tutor students, taking on this new role gave them several additional responsibilities and put them in charge of approximately 140 youth volunteers. They have recruited volunteers; trained volunteers; served as a liaison between staff, volunteers, and students; worked to improve student experiences; and taken on side projects, such as creating digital content.
Nico said, “As Youth Leaders, our roles became more managerial and more personal… in the sense that instead of talking to [students] mostly to teach them English, it’s talking to them to understand them, reach a personal connection, and see how that best can be used to help improve their classes, as well as raise up the next generation of youth volunteers.”
Regarding the immigrants, Mateo added, “There’s a misconception that the people we teach come from exclusively little educational backgrounds… but the reality is that we get students from all different types of backgrounds. Some of the most educated, professional people in their respective countries left simply to look for a better life in the US…It takes a lot to go from a respected professional in your country to where you’re now from ground zero and you have all this education and professional knowledge, but you can’t apply it in the same way primarily because of the language barrier.”
Nico stressed that through his volunteer work, he learned the importance of consistency and perseverance in learning.
“As you get there day by day and you see these students come in consistently, you see them grow and mature more and become more confident, and you see their lives transform. When we started I knew we were not the best teachers, but as we kept showing up, we kept developing the ability to help others,” he said.
More information about Building One Community and ways to get involved is available online.