This was my third year being apart of my temple’s high school organization (called the A-TEEM). A-TEEM stands for Assistant Temple Emanu-El Madrichim (Leaders). This is mainly for previous students of the religious school who are now in 9th, 10th, 11th, or 12th grade. Our main jobs are to deliver snack (apple juice and pretzels usually) to the classrooms, helping deliver notes to the teachers, creating lesson plans and giving presentations, helping out around the temple community, and teaching lessons to 3rd-5th graders. My favorite part of this is probably being able to teach lessons to the 3rd-5th graders. What happens is, we get a quote for the year and teach lesson plans (given to us) throughout the year based on the quote. There are three quotes used and they are repeated in a cycle. The quote/question(s) I taught this year were from Pirkei Avot, a 2,000 year old book of Jewish wisdom, not found in the torah. It says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”. With the exception of some special holiday lesson plans (Passover, Hanukkah, Yum Kippur…), we taught lessons about this quote for the whole year. I also love the program because I get to see my friends and work together with them.
In seventh grade, I had the privilege of discovering a small but passionately run soup kitchen when my two friends asked me to come with them to volunteer at one of the Friday dinners their church was holding. Since that day, I have regularly been volunteering at St. James Church, and have met so many inspiring individuals who want to make a change in others lives. St. James is located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and although they are a church, their soup kitchen is open to any person wishing to volunteer, regardless of their religious beliefs. The church runs the soup kitchen on Tuesday mornings and Friday evenings, and provides service to around 90 homeless individuals at each meal. Although I have gone many times, a Friday evening from earlier this year stuck out for me. I arrived with my two friends who belong to the church, and we began by helping chop vegetables for the meal. Others helped to set up the tables in the main hall, placing flower vases on each one, while more people brought bread baskets out to the tables. After we had almost finished prepping the meal, we came together for a moment of grace. I am not Catholic, and may not have been thanking God for allowing me to be there, but I was still reminded of how lucky I was, and how much this meal meant for the people receiving it. We continued prepping and serving the food, and I remember another volunteer running back down to the kitchen gasping that there was an extra vegetarian plate needed, asking if we had already sent the veggie plates out, and if there be enough food left. Her worries were resolved as we had extra and made up another vegetarian plate, which I brought upstairs. When I found the woman who had claimed to be vegetarian, and placed the plate in front of her, she looked at me with such a wide smile and without even having to speak, her eyes told me how grateful she was. I have come back to the soup kitchen many times after that night, but I will always remember the surprise vegetarian and her soulful eyes.
On service day, our grade volunteered at Food Bank For New York City, in the Bronx. We started by watching a video about the organization in which we learned their mission and heard testimonies from people who were helped. During our time at the warehouse, we helped sort materials and repackage them. This semester, i’ve been taking Poverty in the US, and it was nice , service day aligned with areas I was learning about and passionate about. After completing our tasks, we were told that our work would help over 2000 families in the NYC area. The numbers hit home since hunger isn’t always an issue we see around. With just a couple hours of work, we were able to give back to people in our immediate community (NYC), all the while bonding with each other. I enjoy being a part of a community where service is mandatory because I feel as though it is a responsibility to help those that are less fortunate.
Over the summer I visited Tobago with the boys varsity soccer team. We worked with an organization called Kleats for Kids to provide cleats and other soccer gear to the schools we visited. Before the trip I collected pairs of used cleats from my friends to be distributed in Tobago. In Tobago we would host volunteer soccer clinics, basically simple run throughs of how we practice, and afterwards we would pass out the cleats and gear. The clinics were amazing experiences, we got to meet and train with kids our age to as young as 5. Everyone was incredibly welcoming. We led clinics at Warren and Sherwin’s old high school, and with a team that they had been on for years when they were younger. Meeting the principle of their high school, and the coach that had trained them were incredibly memorable experiences. After the clinics we often would play against some of the students we had trained with. Not only did we train and play soccer in Tobago, we also explored and learned about the island. On the first day Warren brought us to get doubles, a breakfast snack made of a pancake and chickpea stew which everyone proceeded to spill. We also went to a waterfall called Argyle Falls where everyone had a great time exploring the river and jumping off of the rocks. The trip to Tobago was something I’ll never forget.
For my inschool service this year, I volunteered at Tamid, the Downtown Synagogue as a part of their DHAP program, or Downtown Teen Hunger Action Project. ( Link) DHAP is a program for youths in NYC to make a difference and feed the homeless. We first began with a Guest speak from the community who has done considerable community service, and they would tell us what they did, and how their service has made a difference in their life. I distinctly remember one man talk about how he would watch over Homeless people in a shelter to make sure they were safe and comfortable, and how he would also give them food and water. After the guest speakers, we prepared meal bags and another bag full of other necessities. The meal bags would have sandwiches, water, and an assortment of snacks. The other bags would have soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes and socks. After we were done packing these bags, we would spend around two hours walking around New York City looking for homeless people to give these bags too. If at the end of these two hours (and very often we went longer searching for people) we still had bags, we would donate what was in them to a homeless shelter.
This whole experience was very rewarding and fulfilling experience for me. I felt as if was doing something really positive for others, because the people who received these bags were always extremely happy once they got them.
This year I volunteered at AFYA where we organized and labeled boxes of medical equipment that would then be shipped to Syrian refugee camps. The organization takes medical equipment that hospitals would have thrown out even though none of them are actually used. Working there made me realize how much gets wasted at hospitals and how many people could be helped if all hospitals gave away their trash equipment instead of filling up landfills. Each box we packaged could preform a couple of surgeries each and we were able to package about five boxes. It showed me how a few hours of working together could make the difference between life and death for so many people.
Over the course of this year I have volunteered with the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association (SPNA) to help garden in the park next to school. I helped plant flower bulbs before winter, rake leaves in th spring and spread mulch to help the soil. I got to meet a lot of people in the neighborhood who also wanted to help and I enjoyed gardening with groups of highschoolers from other schools or programs. Now when I walk through the park seeing all the green and the flowers I can actually see what I worked for and what I planted. SPNA has gardening events every other Saturday. They are quite fun and I encourage anyone in need of service or who wants to help garden to try. For any information you can contact SPNA at email@example.com.
Going on the South Africa was a unique experience and a look into a society full of rich history and culture like I had never experienced before. The entire trip was full moments of great joy, and also sadness. I witnessed myself and my peers push through very difficult moments which occasionally placed us in some discomfort. However, by the end of the trip, I was exhausted but filled with inspiration and hope.
The entire trip was such an incredible experience for me, however, a day I particularly found moving was when we worked with the Youth Group from the Methodist Church we had visited the day before. We started our day around eight with breakfast from the mamas and once finished, drove over to the church. We were greeted by the church Youth Group with many of their songs and prayers. One of the church leaders then split us into small groups so we were mixed in with the members of the church. After learning about each other through icebreaker activities, we split into three groups and travelled with the Youth Group to neighborhood homes. In those homes we encountered ailing members of the community who were experiencing difficulty providing for themselves. Our task was to provide encouragement through songs and prayers as well as providing food for those community members.
We met people who were sick and hungry. We saw yards filled with trash and homes that were dirty and falling apart. The conditions made me uncomfortable and when I stepped inside the Shanti our group went to, I wondered if I would be able to live in those conditions. The people who lived in these homes were very strong and resilient. However, they still needed the support of their community. The church readily provided that support with love and compassion. I was struck by how many church members wanted to help their community, and showed up. Their support made me think a lot about the power of community and how much more we can be doing to
support our local community back at home. I am grateful to have had this transformative experience and I will carry the lessons it taught me into future opportunities.
This summer, I worked with the SPAT program in Southold, NY. SPAT bring together the community to help preserve the numerous species of shellfish that inhabit Peconic Bay. These species include oysters, scallops, and clams. People from across Suffolk County volunteer three days a week to care for these animals, who are vital parts of the ecosystem. Apart from working at the extension, homemade cages are built and distributed to all of the volunteers. These allow them to grow their own seed during the summer months. The SPAT program has become so effective that people have begun to harvest their seed rather then overpopulate the bay. This keeps the food chain in tact, while providing delicious shellfish for hundreds of families across Suffolk County.
In January, the ninth grade started a service project called YPI (Youth and Philanthropy Initiative) that would last until the end of April. We were put into teams, and were instructed to think of a social issue present in the New York City community that we felt passionate about. After sorting through a couple different options, my team members and I settled on the topic of LGBTQ youth discrimination. During the project, we conducted research on our topic, through the library archives, and the web. After we had found out some information about our issue, we made websites about our social issues, and choose an organization to partner with that supported our cause. My group chose to work with the organization GLSEN. GLSEN is the largest educational network for the LGBTQ youth population across the United States. They provide most statistics about the LGBTQ youth discrimination, and have many programs that help pass legislative laws, and support students in their local communities. We chose GLSEN because they are an organization that, although broad, really cares for the students they want to make a difference for.
Coming into the project, when our team chose the issue of LGBTQ youth bullying, I was a little uncertain. I didn’t know a lot about the topic, and although I definitely knew it was an issue, I have grown up in an accepting community, so I haven’t had the chance with hands on experiences related to LGBTQ bullying. However, when our group dove into our research, I found that the project helped my see how important of an issue the topic is. The thing that really changed my attitude though, was when we went on our site visit. My group met with Eliza Byard, the executive director of GLSEN, and she helped us understand what an LGBTQ student is going through. She told us how students who are discriminated against because of their gender, or sexual orientation can drop out of school, and get involved in bad situations. This kind of bullying can eventually lead to extremely low self-esteem, and possible suicide. The idea that bullying simply on how students choose to lead their lives can kill a person really hit me, and made me realize that although LGBTQ youth bullying may not seem as important as some of the other social issues in New York City, it should be held in the same light.
Over the course of the project, I also developed some skills that I can take with me into the future. I learned how to find proper information, and combine that information into interesting, thought provoking points. I also learned how to present in front of a large audience. Having to do a formal presentation taught me how less is more in terms of a presentation, and how to get a point across while engaging the audience. The project overall had its ups and downs in terms of difficultly, but the part of our service learning experience I found the most challenging was starting out. Because we started from the bottom up, the beginning was hard in terms of finding information about our topic. Our group also had trouble narrowing down our topic because there was a lot of information about the general LGBTQ community. However, it was a lot harder to find information about LGBTQ youth. The project also had many aspects that were rewarding. Helping others always has a rewarding aspect to it, but the part of the project that was the most rewarding for me was knowing that by presenting, and learning about the organization, I was able to spread the word, and have more people become aware of GLSEN, and the extraordinary work they do. Finally, in terms of staying engaged with GLSEN, because they are such a big organization that runs many events, there isn’t a lot I can do to stay personally in contact. However, they run many events in New York City, which I can participate in, and I can also simply spread the word. Even by telling others about GLSEN, I am able to help others who might find GLSEN a resource if they feel like they have no where to go.