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After learning about the incredible nonprofit organization, Free the Children, I had the opportunity...

Spencer Handley on “Fill and Build”

May 17th, 2012

After learning about the incredible nonprofit organization, Free the Children, I had the opportunity to embark on a life-changing adventure in Ecuador to build a school. After coming to UCLA, I was so excited to find someone else who had a passion for this organization and wished to raise awareness. I spoke to third year UCLA student and co-founder of Fill and Build Spencer Handley about his experiences and work.

What is your position at Fill and Build and a brief description of what you do?

I am the Co-Founder of the project and have done a lot of the organization and ground work for Fill and Build. This includes branding and website design (, working with schools as well collaborating with the team in establishing our general plan of action. I am also the designated whip-cracker if we are falling behind on our goals or generally being lazy.

What is the mission/goal of your organization?

Our general goal is to fill six box trucks with donated items. For every truck that we fill, Goodwill has agreed to donate $1,500 to Free the Children. Why six trucks? Six times $1,500 is $9000, or the cost of an entire school in Kenya! Once we meet this goal, we have organized a few corporate sponsors who have agreed to match our contribution in order to help us reach a higher goal of “Adopting a Village”. Under this model, Free The Children provides holistic, sustainable development in the form of clean water, education, alternative income and healthcare to a marginalized community in Kenya.

On a broader scale, our goal is to inspire young people to be enthusiastic and experimental in their pursuits to better the world around them. We have some larger plans in the works. Ultimately, we plan on doing one major experimental philanthropy project per year. Each project will address a specific global/social issue and will include a different means for raising funds and awareness.

Who is your target audience and who do you want to reach out to?

Our target audience is primarily young people. Being young, we have a particular advantage in that we (1) have nothing to lose if we fail, (2) have time to spare and (3) have very little responsibility outside of personal development and our own education. This makes it remarkably easy and important to contribute. Not only should we take this opportunity for the sake of knowing that we did it, but for discovering the pure joy that exists in giving, which we may never experience unless we taste it in our youth. Sadly our generation is commonly refereed to as the “me” generation, where our first concern is our own prosperity and the needs of others come second. Our generation is known for its apathy and consumerism. At Fill and Build we would like to see this stereotype redefined. We would like to see our generation typify creativity and contribution.

What are some current events, projects, or campaigns that you are working on?

We are currently working on two projects simultaneously. The first is a large donation drive at Real Life Church. They are supporting our group by staging a church wide donation drive and have already filled an entire 40ft storage unit to the ceiling. My co-founder, Austin and I have been driving around in a box truck, picking up large donations every weekend for the last month and a half, it’s been a blast! That project wraps up on April 8th when we will hopefully fill two trucks with donations from the church.

The second project that we are working on is called the “Fill and Build Donation Drive Challenge”. We’re really excited about this program and it’s gaining momentum quickly. We have organized a few select schools in Los Angeles and have pit them against each other in the spirit of giving. We’ve been visiting the schools, giving speeches, hanging out with awesome enthusiastic kids and getting them pumped about Free the Children, living with purpose and giving back to their world! The project is organized around the idea of “celebrate giving”. With that in mind, we created a donation competition between the schools. The school which donates the most “stuff”, wins a HUGE school-wide dance, complete with a DJ, lights, fog, confetti blasters, and free giveaways. Austin and I work as DJs at an event company in town and they were generous enough to donate the equipment rental to the project. That project wraps up on May 20th!

How and why was Fill and Build started?

Fill and Build was started as a result of a random conversation and a desire to contribute something with purpose. My co-Founder Austin Peck and I were discussing different ways that we could have an impact and we both established that we wanted to do something creative and different. We had recently heard about a program that Goodwill had established called “ Fill a Truck” and had heard of Free the Children through a web-blogger named Taylor Conroy, who I really admire. We felt that blending the missions of the two reputable organizations was an interesting way to mix two types of giving; local and global. Once we formed the general outline for the plan, we started moving forward with development.

What is the most important message Fill and Build is trying to convey to the general public?

Give! Giving our time, passion and resources to something bigger than ourselves brings us fulfillment and purpose. It feels great!

Are there any recent campaigns or events which Fill and Build has been involved in?

We recently gave a presentation at the Free the Children, Youth Summit Conference: Los Angeles. We were able to talk to the students about our involvement with Free The Children, which turned out to be a really rewarding experience. We also hosted our first city wide donation drive on February 26th. There we were able to fill most of a 28ft box truck and got featured in a full page spread on the front page of the Lifestyle section in the news paper. We were also featured on a local news station and on the front page of the Daily Bruin.

Who are some of your partners and what do they contribute to your organization?

My Co-Founder, Austin Peck has been a vital member of the team. He has been critical in establishing our direction, organizing event details, helping with donation pickups, assembling a street team to hand out fliers and everything in between. Jacklyn Yen is our Director of Awesomeness. She helps us with every little detail, responding to emails, wrapping up loose ends, finding sponsors, and generally managing our awesomeness. Our newest addition to the team is Publicist, Elina Faskhutdinova. She is now in charge of our blog and press materials and will be extremely helpful in the coming months. We are also lucky enough to have extremely supportive parents who have helped us every step of the way. We have a really great street team who are helping us get the word out about the donation drives and we have also been helped tremendously by Helen Ma and Sarah Koff at Free the Children. They have been so incredible at guiding us and helping our project become a success.

What was your experience with starting a group on a college campus?

It has been a lot of work! We made a bunch of mistakes and we will definitely continue to make them, but they have taught us some pretty cool things about organization, people, resourcefulness and clear communication. Overall, it has been an absolute blast and completely worth all of the time we pour into it.

What would you recommend for other university students to do when trying to start a student group or organization?

Just go for it! If you have an idea, and you think it could be successful, go create it and readjust your aim as you go along! Do something you really care about while you have the time and passion to do so!

Pictured above: the founders of Fill and Build, Austin Peck (left) and Spencer Handley (right).

About the Author

Jonaki is a first year Pre-Communications major at UCLA. She is currently an intern at the UCLA Volunteer Center as a Social Media Writer, working mainly with raising awareness at UCLA about nonprofit organizations on and off campus.

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