Ever since I was in kindergarten, I attended the bag decorating event for Gods Love We Deliver. I was always thrilled that something as little as drawing on a large white bag could be something that brought joy to many other people, whether they were the bag recipients or the school community that looks at the finished works in the meeting house. This year was the second year that I could engage in this activity from another perspective of the event. I handed out bags and ribbons and made sure everyone had the perfect amount of glue-sticks to allow them to make their designs. But along the way I was also able to make some bags of my own (and eat some cookies, Yum!). It was only when carrying hundreds of bags onto the balcony of the meeting house that the full weight of our efforts hit me. Such small things can really add up when we all worked together: I only made 4 bags, but if everyone each made 4 bags, we’d have tons of them! This event is truly one of my favorite school traditions and I hope to work some more with it next holiday season!
This year, I have the pleasure of working with Reading Partners, a volunteer organization that gives specialized tutoring in reading and comprehension to children in public schools. Along with a partner, I have been meeting weekly with a young student from the first grade of PS 188. My partner and I have only been working with this organization for 6 weeks and will continue to work with them until late May. However, over this short time, I have seen my student grow from barely reading their alphabet to reading short picture books completely on their own.
Reading is a skill that many of us take for granted, but many people struggle with. It is a fundamental skill needed for learning, and I am glad that I can help my student progress and develop their skills. In a short time they have improved exponentially and I cannot wait to see where they grow by the end of this year.
Over the course of the year, I tutored a 20-year-old student in Damascus via Skype. Because of the time difference, I had to wake up at 5:45 A.M. to coordinate with him. We had to make ‘audio calls,’ because his internet was not good enough for video. We were connected through Paper Airplanes Tutoring, which is an organization that connects students around the world with Syrians that want to learn English. I taught a student whose brother was seeking asylum in Germany, and he had hoped to join him there, as he was attracted by work and education opportunities and economic growth. I was teaching towards the TOEFL, an English exam often used as a barometer of one’s fluency. A good score was required in order to obtain a scholarship from a German university-his university had been shut down for the year due to war. The experience was extremely rewarding, and he greatly inspired me. He stopped his English studies once the EU reached an agreement on how many Syrians they would accept. Because he was still in Syria, he was far behind on any asylum process, and the German universities were much harder to attend. I spoke with him at length about ways to flee the country, but he did not want to leave his parents behind. We remain friends, and often still talk on Facebook.
Alongside about 12 other student leaders from Independent Schools around NYC, Ben Wong and I, representing Friends, planned and coordinated the first ever student-lead sustainability conference sponsored by NYAIS, held from 10am to 4pm at the Calhoun School. Organizing such an important and worthwhile event with energetic and passionate students was an honor and a privilege. At the conclusion of months of work, I was able to open and close the conference, lead my own workshop, and meet two inspirational speakers, Anjali Appadurai and Kehkeshan Basu, both of whom have been deeply involved in environmental policy for the United Nations. I continue to do everything in my power to live sustainably every day, but an event such as this one reminded me that it takes large scale collaboration to see real progress. The chain starts at the local and community level. Together, we need to galvanize and mobilize the youngest generation in order to move towards a brighter future for our planet.
On May 14th I worked at the Spring Fair for Jack And Jill. At this event, I began my day by working at the games booth, in which I was responsible with running the skee ball, ring toss, basket ball, and Down the Clown games. I also made sure to help the kids as they played the games and to give them tickets after playing which they could redeem for prizes. At this booth I got to do very fulfilling work by helping out the kids and making sure they were having fun. Next I worked at the spin art booth, at which I not only ran the spin art machine itself, but also set the pictures that the kids made into frames. My final responsibility for the day was working at the snow cone booth, which mainly involved adding ice to the snow cone machine and serving the snow cones. Overall, I enjoyed volunteering my time to help out the Jack and Jill community.
On May 13th, I volunteered with Empty Bowls through working at their table selling the bowls that had been made this year. Empty Bowls is an organization that helps to fight against hunger through donation and service, while also informing people about the issues that cause hunger in our society and how we can fight against them. On this particular day the bowls that had been made by volunteers throughout the year were being sold in order to raise money to be used to combat hunger. Earlier in the day a part of this event was a deal in which people who purchased bowls would also receive ice cream, and when I began we had moved the table inside and began to sell the bowls by themselves. In working with and learning about Empty Bowls, I am more informed with the struggles that accompany hunger.
This Saturday, I was part of a group of Friends students who volunteered with the organization Earth Matter on Governor’s Island. I began my day by gathering the recycled food scraps from the chicken coop that the chickens had not eaten, which was piled up in order to be turned into compost. The food scraps that the chickens ate were gathered from multiple sources, ranging everywhere from farmers markets to even Friends itself. After the compost had been gathered, we then laid down wood chippings in the coop so that more food scraps could be placed on top of them. We then proceeded to wash down the chicken roosts so the chickens had a place to rest within the coop, as the compost nearby the roosts is a large source of heat for the chickens when it is cold out and having this space allows for more chickens to be in the coop. After we placed the freshly cleaned roosts in the coop and had a small break to eat, we then saw the bee hives that Earth Matter had only installed the day before, and we also learned about the importance of bees to the ecosystem. Our next task was to hang artwork in the goat pens, which were painted blocks mounted on both sides of the fence for decoration while there were visitors to Governor’s Island. Our final task of the day was to transplant beets into a new planter, which is only one of the few plants that Earth Matter grows on Governor’s Island. Before we went to the ferry to leave Governor’s Island, we learned about the process through which compost is created from food scraps, and each of the volunteers was given eggs gathered that day from the chickens,
On Wednesday April 20th I volunteered with Empty Bowls. In Empty Bowls we create, paint, and glaze bowls. The bowls are later sold to parents and community members for a dinner event. The money made from the bowls goes to charity. In the beginning, we watched a video about the mission of Empty Bowls so that we could understand what we were working for. There were more people than I expected at Empty Bowls: all high school grades were represented. I liked that we all talked as a group rather than separating our conversations by grade. I got to speak with people I would not normally speak with. I have also not had the chance to take more than one art class in high school, and I really enjoyed getting to paint. It was a creative and fun way to spend an afternoon, and I felt good because I was doing service. I hope Empty Bowls continues at Friends after Jack leaves because it is a good organization.
On December 10th, 2015, I volunteered with Music for the Ages, a school-based group that aims to bring music to communities that may not otherwise have access to live classical music. We volunteered at the LSA Family Health Service in Harlem. We played holiday-themed music like Jingle Bells and Sleigh Ride, as well as our repertoire for the Chamber Music Winter Concert. In the beginning the children seemed bored, but by the end they were singing along to the holiday music. They really liked when we played America from West Side Story. Afterward we had a small reception with the children where we got to talk to the kids about music. The children seemed to grow to like listening to the music, and hopefully we inspired them to continue playing music, or pick up an instrument.
I volunteered to setup and help out at this years spring fair. I had to carry tables, inflate balloons, place chairs and more. At first, even though I was happy to help out, I became tired from all the work. I began wondering why I was inflating so many beach balls. But as the day progressed I started to see what our work was turning into. When we were done setting up the inner and outer courtyard looked amazing. I felt very satisfied to help create such a nice space for students and parents, however, I still had more work. The next day I got up early to work at the actual fair. When I got there it was quiet but an hour later the fair was very loud and lively. Everyone seemed pretty happy and having fun and I got to eat good cupcakes. I was glad to give back to the friends community.