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Building Goodness
Excerpts from a NOLS Leader article from Kate Barrett

“Ten years ago I began looking at the big life questions. I had been building for twenty years and was asking myself, ‘Is this all there is? I needed to reignite the passion around my work.”


These thoughts, an impromptu trip to Haiti, and a few missing roofs led Jack Stoner to lay the groundwork for the Building Goodness Foundation, which today builds clinics, schools, community centers, and housing for those in need with help from local communities and volunteers from every part of the construction industry.

In 1997, Jack accepted an invitation to join his friend Lawson Drinkard, a 2001 NOLS Baja Sea Kayaking grad, to assist with the construction of a community center in Haiti. On that trip, Jack noticed three buildings in need of roofing. “The materials were there, but no one had the knowledge or expertise to do anything,” Jack recalled. “There were so many jobs to do and no one around to do them.” So Jack decided to bring in workers from his own company to finish the job for free. And these roofs became Jack’s ticket to rediscovering that passion he was trying so desperately to find.

Jack then continued to frequent Haiti with other groups of volunteers who had construction expertise. “All the volunteers had such a powerful response,” he said in his light Southern drawl. “We began to get calls from other people who wanted us to design and build structures in other places. Things really grew organically.”

As word spread about the builder from Charlottesville doing third-world volunteer work, Jack took on more and more projects. He and his volunteers built a medical clinic in Haiti, a school in Guatemala, and began work on structures in and around Charlottesville. By 1999, Jack’s operation officially became the Building Goodness Foundation, and today he operates across the globe.

From the beginning, a thread of NOLS ran through the organization. Lawson, now Jack’s business partner, remained involved with NOLS as an active alumnus. As Building Goodness grew quickly, it soon became clear the building crews, though well-versed in construction skills, were in dire need of training in risk management and leadership. Lawson suggested NOLS, and soon thereafter, Jack began working with NOLS Professional Training to create a custom course. What truly cemented Building Goodness’ relationship with NOLS, however, was the passion Jack immediately recognized in the school. “From the people working in the kitchen to the people we worked with in NOLS Pro, they all had the same resonating passion,” Jack recalled of his first visit to Lander. “I was really impressed with the degree of consistency in the culture.”

NOLS’ Building Goodness Trip Leader Training course, now in its third year, involves classroom sessions, a GPS-based leadership navigation challenge, emergency medical scenarios, and various case studies. All trip leaders are required to go through the training before taking charge of any project. By setting a standard of leadership and teaching volunteers how to be an effective part of a team, NOLS has helped Building Goodness spread a coherent sense of purpose throughout the organization.

It’s easy to tell that Jack believes in the mission he aims to cultivate. “Buildings are key foundational structures that allow community to thrive," he said. "People meet there. Communities gather and they grow stronger.” In that sense, Building Goodness and NOLS aren’t so different. While Building Goodness lays foundations of bricks and mortar, NOLS lays the foundation for passionate leaders who can step up as Jack did. Both organizations rely on people with a sense of purpose who care about the well-being of the environment and community surrounding them.

Jack continues to make big plans for Building Goodness. In addition to gearing up for their third NOLS course, the organization plans to build two schools, two churches, one thousand modular houses, and a trade school intended to train more Haitians in sound construction techniques. Learn more about Building Goodness



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