Volunteers for Peace: Alex’s Summer Service

This summer, I worked with the organization Volunteers for Peace in Ham, a small village in the Picardie region of France. My job was to help restore the Chateau D’Ham, a castle that had been destroyed by the Germans in World War I. I got to Ham on August 1st, quite unsure as to what was in store for me and found that I wasn’t the only one with these thoughts. I was to be working with kids my age from all over the world. I was sharing a tent with kids from Spain, Turkey, Italy, and Mali, so conversation at first was difficult; however, we all were able to speak to each other through a mixture of English, French, German, and Spanish.

After settling in, we began our work, which was mostly all outside, except for some work done on the interior of the castle. I began my work in the garden, building a wall that had been severely worn down. I had to make cement, something I had never done before, which I found quite fun. After working on the wall, I dug. I dug a lot! For about three days, I cleared a giant hill of dirt that needed to be removed so that the wall could continue. Work was tiring; however, the down time that I had with the rest of the group was very entertaining. The leaders of the project helped provide activities that everyone could participate in. Games of soccer were organized, cards were played, and on the weekends there were excursions to many different places.

Our weekends were very informative. We traveled to World War I battle sites, museums, and graveyards, which informed us to the historical context for the work we were doing. It was interesting to learn of the severity of the events that took place in the location that we were staying. Besides learning about the history of France, we also learned about French culture. During meals, volunteers were assigned different jobs. Some cooked, some cleaned, and some set the table. When cooking, two old French ladies helped prepare meals that were both local to the region and also favorites. The French cheese was not something that I would want to take back with me! My favorite trips were to the towns of Amiens and Chambly. Whilst in Amiens, we watched the Amiens Cathedral light show, where the cathedral’s impressive facade was lit up in an impressive technicolor light show. In Chambly, we went to a Ligue 3 French football game. Even though the players were only semi-professional, it was still fun to feel like I was a part of everyday French life.

When my work concluded, I was very happy with what I had done. We had completely rebuilt a wall of the castle and had improved it’s facade immensely by replacing many of the bricks. Others who had worked with the group had massively rebuilt the garden, with new beds for prospective flowers everywhere. This trip was like no other for me. I learned about history, improved my language skills, and also experienced a culture that was almost completely new to me. I will not forget this experience.

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website for volunteers for peace: https://vfp.org/

GO Project Summer Internship

During last summer I interned with the GO Project in their GO Getters Program. For five weeks student volunteers worked with experienced teachers and teaching assistants in K-8 classrooms. These students were incredibly bright but had fallen behind during the school year because of a lack of resources, family issue etc. Our job was to provide an experience that would supplement what they were learning in school and also to provide a unique experience using the many resources available at Grace Church (and Avenues). As a morning volunteer, my job was to help students in an academic class. I worked with a science teacher on an environmental science course, discussing and doing activities on issues such as renewable energy, fracking, and composting. We worked with students individually when they required specialized help but also made sure in include group activities into the curriculum. This emphasis on group activity fostered a great sense of community among the students and helped volunteers learn their interests, strengths, and weaknesses in the classroom. The year culminated in a lab report on a composting project. The students created poster boards discussing their projects and presented to students in all middle school classes on the final presentation day.

Volunteers attended daily professional development sessions to discuss issues of social justice related to educational equity. We touched on issues such as the intersection between race, economic status, and educational development, public funding for struggling students, and the use of standardized testing as a measure of intelligence. The student volunteers hailed from many different backgrounds; all were New Yorkers, but every student had a unique story. These PD sessions gave me the opportunity to talk with students who had stories that are rare to encounter at Friends. Some of their schools emphasized diversity similarly to Friends; others did not. Getting some insight into how these less diverse student bodies conducted themselves (as well as some more diverse student bodies) made me realize the importance of diversity at any school and on any campus. Diversity of background (race, socio-economic class etc.) led to the most important type of diversity in any educational setting: diversity of ideas. Having people from so many different backgrounds led to some very unique debates that are impossible to have without a diverse student body. Agree with every students’ opinion or not, exposure to different types of people is important in developing an objective and inclusive view of issues that affect all of us. I hope that every student explores opportunities to exit their bubbles of privilege the same way that I did this summer, and I hope that students at Friends and Friends alumni push for greater diversity wherever they are.

http://www.goprojectnyc.org

 

The HOPE Homeless Count

On February 8th, I went with a group of students from my statistics class to the 2016 HOPE count. HOPE (Homeless Outreach Population Estimate) is an annual survey of the critically homeless population in New York City. It takes place from about 12 am – 3 am.  The survey takes place in the middle of the night in the middle of winter in order to estimate the amount of people in NYC that are inc chronically  homeless. During the count, thousands of volunteers are sent to all different parts of New York City. In their specific areas, they are instructed to go up to any person they see and fill out a survey with questions such as “Do you have a place to sleep tonight?”, ultimately making the decision if they are homeless or not. The night we went was code blue, meaning it was an extremely cold night. On a night where it is code blue, volunteers are instructed to call 911 if they believe a homeless person does not have the proper clothing or protection from the cold. Before we began, we were given an orientation on the Do’s and Don’ts of the count. We were instructed not to approach anyone on private property. We were also told we cold not force anyone to get help from 911. We also could not begin counting until it was 12 am. My group was four people. We were assigned an area in Greenwich Village. Our streets were extremely empty. We talked to about six people, only one who identified as homeless. The man was sixty years old and extremely frustrated with the system. He told us that he was taken to a homeless shelter. There, he was beat up and had his I.D. stolen. Although he wanted help, he had to meet someone for some money. He decided it was best to try and get the money first and then to try to find us later. Unfortunately, we did not see him again that night. The HOPE survey was a very interesting experience. I really liked hearing the man’s experience with being homeless. It definitely made me think New York City still has a lot of work when it comes to helping the homeless population.

Charlie’s Big Love Weekend Service Opportunity

On Saturday, February 20, I took part in God’s Love We Deliver’s Big Love Weekend where over two hundred people were signed up for a full day of yoga classes. All proceeds went to the God’s Love We Deliver organization. I arrived to the venue at 9:30am and after a brief orientation of what our day entailed, I, along with three other students, acted as a greeter. My role included getting people to sign waivers in case of any injuries as well as for media release purposes. I also directed guests to where they could check in. After all of the guests arrived, our next task was to pack lunches for them. This consisted of forming an assembly line and packing sandwiches, protein bars, and chips into boxes and laying them out on the table.

I enjoyed this service opportunity as I got to interact with new people, all of which were there to support a worthy cause, God’s Love We Deliver. I really enjoyed acting as a greater, and once a system was developed, packing lunches proved to be more fun than expected.

Flores Climate March Reflection

Last September, I took part in the largest climate march in history, The People’s Climate March. When my friends and I arrived at 86th street, we had to wait for what seemed like forever for the march to start. I was hungry, tired, and started complaining to my friends who kept reassuring me that the march would start soon and it would be all good. Eventually, it started, and as my friends and I walked down along the west side of Central Park, zig zagging across the west side and making our way downtown to 34th street, we encountered many diverse peoples all fighting for the same cause. I met individuals who had come from all over the world for the sole purpose of partaking in this climate march. Some of these people had traveled many miles and crossed oceans to arrive there whereas all I had to do was take the subway uptown. With a little help from my friends, I realized that my grumbling stomach was insignificant in comparison to the cause I was marching for and that food would have to wait. Although I was just one person out of hundreds of thousands, my presence was necessary for a change to occur. Every single person’s presence resulted in making this climate march the biggest in history and raising the huge amount of awareness that it did.

Although you may feel insignificant in the battle against climate change, the difference one person can make is enormous. Changing the climate requires each individual to take that first step in reversing the damage that multitudes have created. Climate change affects every form of life. From plants to animals, our actions as humans have devastated this planet to a point where salvation seems impossible. I never thought I would be able to make a difference; I never thought I would have enough motivation to walk for miles on an empty stomach. I cannot emphasize enough how the support of my friends kept me going throughout the climate march, and how your support may be the difference that drives one other person to save the planet. Changing the climate requires the combination of many small efforts, not one big fix-all. Raising awareness through this march required the combined presence of everyone who attended. Rest assured, after it was over, I bought a hot chocolate and a scone to satisfy my appetite. However, my new hunger for change was insatiable and I would make a continued effort to save the world through my own life choices, no matter how small.

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Acknowledgements: Rachel Wolchok took the attached photo of Isabel Clements.