This past summer, I was a volunteer counselor for the second year in a row at Camp Kulam, a two week day camp program at the JCC for kids with special needs ages 4-18. During my time at Kulam, I worked with the 8-12 year olds. At the time Camp Kulam rolled around this past summer, I had been volunteering at the JCC’s Center for special needs for over a year, both in their camp and their year round programs.I had gotten to know many of the teens in the program, so when I found out that I was not placed with them this past summer, I was honestly slightly disappointed. I had developed a strong bond with these kids over the past year, and I was looking forward to spending more time with them over the summer. I had to remind myself that I was not here for me, I was here for the participants in this program, and that any campers were wonderful campers.
Some children were fairly high functioning, able to talk and play all day, and have conversations on a level that is similar to those of a typically developing child. While other children were completely non-verbal, and relied solely on hand gestures and incoherent noises as their form of communication. This past summer, I was working with more non verbal kids than I ever had in the past, which truly put my communication skills to the test. This challenge, while admittedly frustrating at times, also bettered my understanding of autism, and forced me to become a better communicator and counselor. I developed a particularly close connection with one of my campers, Harry, who was very low functioning, which led to my placement in his class in my work at the JCC over the academic year.
What started out as an on a whim agreement to volunteer for two weeks during the summer of 2014 turned into a much longer commitment, and ultimately led me to strongly considering going into special education in the future. I highly encourage anybody interested in children and education to consider branching out from the typically developing world, and into a special education program. The incredible connections and genuine compassion of the kids I work with has greatly outweighed any frustrations and challenges I’ve faced, and I know, come June, I’ll be very sad to have to leave.
Last year I participated in the BikeMS New York City Bike Tour. The bike tour is a 30-mile bike ride around the Island of Manhattan established by the Multiple Sclerosis Society. To participate in the race, one must raise at least 200 dollars for the fight against MS. I was very fortunate to have raised 5,500 dollars for my bike ride. I accomplished this by sending out emails to my family members and notifying my apartment building and the apartment building next door about my effort against MS. In the end, the money stacked up to an enormous amount and I was promoted to the Elite 200 Club, which was comprised of the top 200 donors in the bike tour. Of the thousands of participants and the 200 top donors, I ranked 60th overall in funds raised. At that moment, I felt elated that all of my hard work raising funds had paid off.
The ride itself started at Chelsea Piers. It then went on a route around Manhattan on the FDR and the West Side Highway. We passed many sights on our route including the United Nations, 1 World Trade Center, and the Brooklyn Bridge. By the end of the ride, I was both exhausted and elated. I was exhausted because the ride took a lot out of me and I was elated because of the large turnout of donors. I would like to thank all my donors and everyone who participates in the fight against MS for giving me this opportunity.
This summer I worked at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, where I helped feed 1000 hungry New Yorkers every day. Holy Apostles’ mission is to feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted, seek justice for the homeless, and provide a sense of hope and opportunity to those in need. It was great to take part of such a nice foundation that helps those in need everyday. I helped the soup kitchen by doing many jobs, like cleaning dishes, collecting food, wait on tables, and participate in handing out food on the assembly line. Volunteering gave me a sense of fulfillment and happiness, especially when I saw the smiles of people who were enjoying a delicious meal.
This summer, I volunteered at the Children’s Museum of the Arts. CMA is “a nonprofit arts facility that brings hands-on art programming to children throughout New York City” (CMA Website). During the summer, CMA has classes at their main facility in West Soho, and classes on Governors Island that are held in what used to be U.S. Naval Officer housing.
This was my second summer volunteering at CMA which offers a wide variety of arts classes. I assisted with three, weeklong film classes on Governors Island: Claymation, Epic Adventure Film, and Pixilation. Each class was based around teaching kids, ages 7-13, an animating computer program called iStopmotion.
This year I was much more involved and given more responsibilities. Each morning and afternoon, I helped chaperone the kids to and from Governors Island. I was put in-charge of workstations and groups and assisted kids if they had questions. I also gained a better sense of effectively teaching kids and also furthered my understanding of iStopmotion and filming techniques.
When I was younger, I took classes at CMA so it was very rewarding to teach kids and help them have the same experiences I had. It was also nice to learn that some of the kids taking the class were lower school students at Friends. Overall, it was a great experience taking on a larger role in helping younger kids express themselves through new forms of art.
During the summer, I was able to volunteer at Javits Center to welcome His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama to New York City. Over a period of 4 days, two of those for preparations in the center, I met dozens of other Tibetan students (many of whom were older than me) and had the opportunity to connect with alot of them. The first two days of preparations were more focused on the labelling of seat numbers and distribution of the prayer books for the 15,000 people to come. With only around 200 volunteers, it did take a while to get the job done; however, once we finished the place was truly a sight to see. On the first day of the teachings (“Tenshug”), I was stationed inside the area where HHTDL was, and I put wristbands on the people leaving the building. My friend and I wristbanded a good 7,000 people during the lunch break. However, the next day I was stationed outside of the seated area, and was placed at the media table and the donation center. I collected and wrote receipts for donations made by Tibetan members of the community. At the media table, a volunteer and I handed out ID badges for the media groups that stopped by. By the end of the last day, a group of ten volunteers (including myself) sorted out thousands of ear and head pieces (used by people who needed translations for the teachings), which took around 2 hours. Throughout the four days, not only was I blessed to be able to volunteer and contribute to the Tibetan community that raised me from an early age, but also honored to meet hundreds of other unique, wonderful, and compassionate Tibetans I would have never gotten the chance to meet.
I volunteered for NYC Cares through an organization called Breakthrough New York. What I did over the summer was, for three days, I would volunteer at a different site for four hours with NYC Cares. I entertained elderly by playing Bingo with them for one of the days. Then, I helped decorate a local library for another day. I also worked at a food pantry. Over the course of the summer, I was able to see the joy in helping others out. The elderly was overjoyed that someone came to visit and you could see it in their faces. The librarians and the people working at the food pantry were also appreciative of what we were doing.
Over the summer I had an amazing opportunity to travel to Ecuador with a service group called MetoWe. I was able to see a third world country first hand. The experience really humbled me and allowed me to see how fortunate I am to go to such an amazing school. I met a lot of people, although some stood out more than others. Everyday for 2 weeks I worked with about 15 college and high school student to build a school in a small community called kanambu. One 7 year old boy really amazed me because he was worked just as hard as all of us in his only pair of shoes which were flip flops. We also learned that it doesn’t help a community to just go in build something’s then leave. It is all about sustainably. I would love to go on a trip like this again.
Over the summer, I interned at an organization called Writopia Lab. Writopia Lab is a space for kids and teens to work on creative writing with instructors, and to further their writing skills. As an intern, I helped out in workshops with kids ages 7-11. I helped them type up their stories if they weren’t comfortable enough typing, and I gave them feedback and helped them to foster their creativity.
Over my two weeks, I personally worked with about four kids, in workshops with about seven to eight kids each. The first week I assisted a girl named Nicole and a boy named Dasher. They each started off the week a little bit shaky. Nicole would write something very short and then get distracted, and Dasher only wanted to write about a video game. However, by the end of the week, Nicole was able to put her wild imagination to use by creating an entire world in which she wrote a story. Likewise, Dasher was able to use his love of character to create a new story that he created all on his own.
The second week was a little bit different, because the kids were younger, so I focused more on helping them learn how to begin and write extremely short stories, and I helped each of them type. I specifically helped a young girl named Ruwayda. By the end of the week, she had about five short stories that were about half a page each.
I really appreciated the time I had helping young kids to develop their writing skills. They remind me why I myself have a passion for writing, and they show me just how new and exciting it can be. I’ve interned with Writopia in the past, and I’ve gone to them as a student for many years. In the future, I hope to be able to intern at Writopia again.
This summer, I had the opportunity to work in Northern Alabama for a month on a trail crew with the Student Conservation Association. The SCA is an organization that works with high school students as well as young adults and military veterans to revamp and restore the country’s natural spaces. I was placed on a crew in Bridgeport, Alabama through the SCA’s “National Crews” program. We spent a month at Russell Cave National Monument working on a mile-long nature trail, where we cleared invasive brush, tore up old asphalt, and filled in potholes with new asphalt. In exchange for service to the park, we were allowed to camp on the park grounds, and use one of the ranger houses to take showers in. Additionally, the SCA provided for our food and transportation around Alabama. The crew consisted of 6 other students and two leaders, all of whom came from different areas of the country.
I decided to apply for a crew with the SCA because I wanted a hands-on experience with conservation and sustainability outside of work I’d done previously. At first, I was a bit hesitant to go to Alabama, because I was worried about the heat and bugs down there; however, the experience turned out to be way better than I expected. We met at the Chattanooga Airport, and drove to Russell Cave National Monument, which was about an hour across the Tennessee/Alabama border. We got Russell Cave, which had about 300 acres of land surrounding the different cave openings. The cave itself, however, was more than seven miles long. We were never allowed to go into the cave itself, because there were bats with White-Nose Syndrome, which humans would spread to other bats without Haz-Mat suits. That night, we cooked our first meal, and got started working on the nature trail the next day. Every subsequent weekday we would wake up around 5:30-6 and start working on the trail around 7:30. We’d finish up around 3pm, and go back to the campsite to shower and prepare dinner. Each night, we would do different activities like play cards, or drive to a nearby waterfall. On the weekends, we’d often take trips to go on hikes or visit other bodies of water. My favorite place to visit was Foster Falls, which was a 70 foot waterfall a short drive away. We also got to visit Little River Canyon for a day, which was the bigger sister park to Russell Cave. Some of the other night trips included a drive-in movie, and a concert in Chattanooga. Our biggest trip was for three days to Smoky Mountain National Park, where we camped on a campground and went on a 10-mile hike up the mountains.
While the work on the trail wasn’t the most exciting at times, it was certainly rewarding to finish the trail on the last day of work, and take a last walkthrough and see what we had all accomplished in the past month. Throughout the trip I learned a lot about hard work, as well as staying cohesive with a small group. Overall, I truly enjoyed my time with the SCA, and would definitely recommend the experience to any future students.
This summer I volunteered at the Randal’s Island Park Alliance and took pictures mainly for the organization’s tennis summer camp at the Sportime Center. This specific camp allowed for under privileged children from all areas in Harlem, the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn to have the opportunity to go outside and learn how to play tennis, dance, and play instruments. Volunteering at this summer camp provided me with a great opportunity to not only help advertise this wonderful organization, but also be able to merge my interest in Photography with service learning. When I went to the Sportime Center all of the children were beaming with joy and were eager to learn how to play tennis and have fun. The staff, which consisted mostly of volunteers, were extremely friendly and it was evident that they were truly passionate about educating and taking care of these children. Most of my service for the organization was photographing the closing ceremony for the camp. This ceremony was an event that presented the camper’s parents as well as the camp’s sponsors all the wonderful work and activities that the children took part in over the summer. There were three main parts of this ceremony. The first part consisted of the tennis instructors telling the parents and sponsor about the skills and activities that the children took part in as well as a tennis demonstration done by the children. The second and third parts focused on the performing arts aspect of the camp. There was a drumming performance done by the children in addition to a dance that was choreographed by the camp’s volunteer Dance Instructor. It was great to see how happy and excited the campers were to present what they have learned to everyone. I felt very lucky to have helped and be included in such a great friendly community.