In the last week before school started, the Friends Seminary Varsity soccer team travelled to Tobago for a week. We played youth teams from the country, trained with teenagers from Tobago, but the most important and rewarding part for me was the clinic that we ran one day. Before the trip, we were told to gather any soccer equipment that we had and bring it with us. Once we arrived, we gathered it all together and brought it to a soccer field on the island. About 75 kids showed up, ranging in ages form 5 to 17. We first did some warm up drills with them, then did actual soccer technical drills. After all of that, each camper got to go into the stash of equipment and take one thing that they needed. I helped the younger kids mostly try on cleats and make sure that they fit. All of the kids also received a t shirt at the end with a water bottle and bag. For me, it was super rewarding to see that something that I might not need can be put into great use in another part of the world.
Edible Schoolyard NYC, the non-profit organization that my group chose for the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative (YPI) project, works alongside NYC public schools; particularly those in low-income communities and those who suffer the most form dietary related diseases. Edible School Yard helps set up urban gardens in schoolyards and educates students on how to choose, make and eat healthy and sustainable foods to ultimately maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. They provide students with opportunities to work hands-on in urban grown schoolyard gardens and in cooking classes; as well as allowing them to think, discuss and learn in more typical classroom environments. Their mission statement states: “Edible Schoolyard NYC partners with public schools to transform the hearts, minds, and eating habits of young New Yorkers through garden and kitchen classes integrated into the school day.” They explain that their vision statement “is that all children are educated and empowered to make healthy food choices for themselves, their communities, and their environment, actively achieving a just and sustainable food system for all.”
Working with Edible Schoolyard NYC to promote food education and equality though the YPI initiative, I have become more impassioned about teaching human beings how to take care of themselves in this age of agribusiness and processed food. We all need to reconnect to our food and understand that good food brings good health. Rather than adhering to the city norms of consuming fast food and eating while walking, we need to embrace the cultivation and care of our food, and by doing so; our bodies and minds will thrive.
The greatest challenge for the YPI student is team communication. There is an intensified sense of accountability involved in the completion of this project as you are not only representing yourself and your group in the final product but also the organization you have chosen to support. The clerical work that is involved with organizing schedules and arranging meet up times is incredibly time-consuming. I would recommend to perspective YPI participants to visit the organization’s site location as early as possible and in our school’s case, before spring break. This will allow maximum time for preparation for the presentation, for research and for follow up questions and in turn reduce the stress level on the project participants.
Although Edible Schoolyard NYC largely depends on volunteers during the school day, we have been looking for ways to continue to support the program beyond a school-initiated project. I would love if our organization could develop a once a month family day on weekends where current Edible Schoolyard NYC students can bring siblings, parents, or grandparents to help by working hands-on in the dirt while learning more about healthy eating and living habits. If this were a possibility, then high school students could more actively volunteer.
Ever since the site visit, I have been telling everyone I know about Edible Schoolyard and the amazing work they have been doing for our New York City community. It was such an incredible experience working alongside them and I strive to continue to spread the mission of healthy sustainable food for all.
Below are a few photos from our site visit to P.S. 7, a demonstration school in East Harlem:
Throughout the year, I volunteered with several of GrowNYC’s initiatives. I have been a regular employee at a farmers market stand, working Saturdays in Grand Army Plaza and short hours Wednesdays in Union Square. This job gave me the opportunity to learn about GrowNYC and volunteer with several programs that partner with greenmarkets, namely Wearable Collections and City Harvest. During the fall season at the market, I participated in “Greenmarket Rescue” by helping my own stand as well as others collect leftovers from the day and load the food onto a City Harvest truck. This food was in turn distributed to mobile markets throughout the five boroughs. I also volunteered several times in Bedstuy with these mobile markets that are set up in food insecure neighborhoods and provide free produce and nutritional education several times a month. During the spring, I became more involved with the Greenmarket clothing collection. Every Saturday I worked at the market, during and at the end of shifts I also helped the clothing drives that were set up to collect New Yorker’s used clothing. This work also involved loading textiles onto trucks to be shipped to sorting facilities as well as engaging participants and involving other farmers to advertise at their own stands. This volunteer work was through Wearable Collection’s partnership with Grow NYC, a company focused on reducing landfills and fundraising for charity that uses farmers markets as outlets.
My experience working at the Farmers Markets and volunteering with their service partners has been truly the most educational community service of my life. I have discovered local farmers markets as oases of environmental awareness and hubs of ethnic and racial diversity. Having grown up in one of the most active and well known cities in the world, exposure to any other environment typically include adjusting to a much different culture. I have found that this culture divide is largely informed by divisions between rural and urban communities, a schism that extends to colonial times and prior. With farmers commuting from rural New Jersey and Pennsylvania, high school and college students engaging in part time work (often from wealthier families), other students from less wealthy families attending community college, and ages that span from 16 to 60 years old, I have never been surrounded by such a variety of voices and backgrounds applied to service and service learning. This diversity extends from the workers to the participants of GrowNYC initiatives, from Park Slope parents to families living on food-stamps. Applying the nutrition information that I learn throughout the day, so engrained in the regular and likely wealthier customers, to educating families in food insecure areas so that access to healthy options transcends wealth barriers, has introduced me to the environment’s intersection with health, small businesses, and social inequality. I am so grateful for the anthropological learning that has come with customer service coupled with the validating community service experiences that GrowNYC has given me my senior year. I am certain that I will seek out work in farmers markets during college as they truly are unrivaled epicenters of geographical, racial, and ethnic diversity that embody the use of intersectionality to address social inequality.
This past spring break, I travelled to South Africa with the school on one of their Global Education Program trips. It was truly an incredible and eye-opening trip. The entire trip was centered around service and service learning, but the most rewarding aspect of that within the trip for me was the day we spent doing Outreach work with a local church in a township in Port Elizabeth. We had spent Easter Day with this Church, who had been so welcoming and friendly to us on the holiday, so we already knew them quite well (with the help of a few Icebreakers!). But this day was different. Outreach is something the church regularly does and they had so eagerly invited us to join them for the special occasion. For Outreach, small groups of people go around to different homes in the township where there is someone who is ill, they bring food staples for them, but they also pray for them. My group went to the home of an elderly woman, she lived in a tiny shanty; the roof was concaving down because it was so poorly made. She was lying on her bed, and they pushed us (the somewhat terrified Americans) right next to her side, and then the rest of our group all surrounded her. Then there was a moment of silence, and before I knew it, the leader of our group started singing, a beautiful, soulful prayer song. It was so clearly powerful for this woman, and for everyone involved in the outreach. Everyone was in tears, and this woman seemed to be really uplifted, or at least moved, by what we had done. For me, it was incredibly moving and powerful and really was a moment for me to reflect on my privilege. Family illness is no joke, and to think of all the resources and wealth we have in terms of medication and health care was so suddenly so very clear. Through out the entire trip, our group grappled with privilege and with our sense of selves and lots of other things on a deep emotional level, and I think this was all rooted in the learning we were doing and the service we did. Not only did we as a group become extremely close, but we, as individuals, left the trip with a greater sense of self, which is more than I could’ve ever asked for.
On The Importance of Physics, determination, and a good sense of humor
Back in the beginning of the year, everything seemed fresh. The year got off to a good start, I had the limitless possibility of college before me, and those senior facing benches made me feel ever so slightly superior to everyone else (as If I ever needed help for that!)
There was only one grim specter over my head: I had to lead robotics. The club was my life for 3 years, and when the seniors of last year left (4 in total) we were left with only 3 people. Then the other 2 quit. It all seemed desperate, but at the last moment, in my eleventh hour, I stood up in meeting for announcements and made the greatest announcement of all time!
“Come tomorrow and learn the nuts and bolts of robotics!” Thunderous applause
Tomorrow came, I waited in room 404, and nobody showed up. I was crushed, the club remained on my CommonApp (I needed every boon I could get!), but it no longer remained in existence.
Weeks if not months later, my physics teacher, John Garnevicus, Asked my classmate Ainsley Cass and I to announce and host a freshman physics review session.
Our announcement warranted less genuine laughs than pained groans as we attempted to make a physics seem fun and cool. The next day, only a few kids actually showed up to physics review.
Still, we were not to be discouraged. Again and again we made cheesy announcement after cheesy announcement, and unlike that tragedy of robotics, people came.
I mentioned robotics because I think there was a key difference between physics review and that ill fated club. The difference is that unlike with robotics we never gave up trying. In the end, I think Ainsley and I have genuinely helped a few freshmen understand and comprehend physics. And if our annoyance and persistence helped a single person, it was worth it.
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.
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 year, my most fulfilling service experience came from my time with a section of Friends Seminary kindergarteners, with whom I spent almost every Friday afternoon during the second semester. I assisted Jody Caiola in organizing materials, supervising students, and teaching photography skills. On most days, I accompanied the kids to Rutherford Park and other local sites where the students were implored to experiment with their cameras and the ways in which different environments and prompts influenced final products. Once they were done shooting, we returned to the classroom and I uploaded pictures into personal folders that I had created for them where they proceeded to experiment with Photo-shop. I helped Jody introduce concepts such as temperature, saturation, contrast, exposure, cropping, landscape photos, portraits, and the like. From stimuli that were concrete as imitating the style of photographer Ansel Adams to abstract as emulating the feelings of chaos, I got to observe the way in which younger children express themselves creatively. The manner that the students got excited about their respective ideas was one of the most rewarding aspects, as I knew that I had aided in introducing them to this creative outlet. Further, I was enthralled with and refreshed by their enthusiasm, as it is a type of excitement that is unique to that age. In addition to the technical assistance, I forged relationships with some of the students that elicited nostalgic memories of my experiences in elementary school. I remembered how significant certain teachers, classes, and students were in developing my own interests and opinions. Assisting in this class weekly, I was able to observe and be a part of other students entries into exploring their own interests.
This is an abbreviated reflection. I have an unabridged version in the form the personal journal which I took on the trip with me. In the void of technology I wrote. I wrote and I wrote. Most of it was about what we did on the trip, some of it was about the people, some of it was deeply personal, and all of it private. But I will try to do this momentous extravaganza of a Spring-Break trip justice.
I suppose for a community service reflection blog I ought to focus on the actual community service element of the whole thing, and less on the hiking and touring (that remains for facebook, but not here). So I will do just that.
The service element of our trip to Nepal was run through an organization called BuildOn (www.buildon.org). If you’re too lazy to click on that link, BuildOn is a charitable organization which specializes in building schools in rural villages all across the globe. Furthermore, the organization seeks to empower young girls by providing them with equal education opportunities as well as providing adult literacy classes for adult women who were not able to learn how to read due to an earlier lack on an education.
Our role in the whole BuildOn process was to go to one such rural villiage, stay with local families, and to participate in the building of the new school. I got to the villiage, met and stayed with my very friendly host family (only one of whom spoke any English!), and over the next 3 days I alternated between manual labor at the work site and learning more about the village and its culture. And that’s about it I suppose.
My brevity on the subject of what it is specifically that we did may seem strange, but I assure you my lack of description does not come from a lack of things to write about. Even the day in the live of a normal dude can pave the way for entire epics, Just look at Jame’s Joyce. Rather, I feel like going into the minutia wouldn’t be an effective use of my time. Instead I want to talk about how this amazing trip changed my life forever.
It didn’t change my life forever.
Don’t get me wrong the trip was utterly fantastic and enlightening on so many levels, but I feel like “life-changing” would be such an awful and cliche thing to say about it. Our lives change every single moment, and as repetitive as it seems nothing that happens to us has ever really happened before, it’s all subtly different. In essence, I am changed each day by the mere experience of existing in a day the likes of which has never existed before. Really what people mean when they say “life-changing” is “altering future plans”. People go through life with a vague idea of how subsequent experiences will go (I will go to college in a few years, after that I’ll probably get a job related to programming, after that I’ll die eventually), but sometimes, people are visited by an epiphany. They do something and out of the blue they realize they want to do something else. They found charitable organizations, start a band in their forties, change jobs, change sexuality, change sex, change a college major, or change something else entirely.
I’ll never forget Nepal, I’ll never forget Kathmandu, I’ll never forget Dhangadhi or Domalia, or any one of the places we hikes to (I have my trusty journal for that), but I do not thing my future plans were changed forever. Still, even if my life wasn’t changed, I helped build a school. One day, when it is complete, children will attend that school. They will learn and they will learn and they will learn and one day they will go on to do great things. So no, my future will not be changed by my experiences on this trip, but with a little luck many young people’s lives will be.
(Oh, and here are some photos!)
Over the summer, I was a volunteer counselor at Camp Kulam. Camp Kulam is 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, and the 12-18 year olds. Prior to this experience, I had never worked with children with special needs, and I was quite nervous about the idea of working with kids who I (at the time) categorized as “different” than the children I had come accustomed to working with, through babysitting, and other child-related programs. The kids in the program all had some form of autism, but they differed greatly in their levels of functionality. Some kids were 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. Whatever their level of functionality, each and every one of these kids added something unique and interesting to our group dynamic. While working at Kulam came with its fair share of challenges, especially in regards to communication with kids who have a hard time expressing their feelings, the experience that I had was overwhelmingly positive, which has led me to be an active participant in the JCC’s youth special needs programing throughout the year. I am so lucky to have been introduced to these amazing kids over the summer, some of whom I still see on a weekly basis through a similar program that I’m a part of. I had assumed that working with kids with special needs would be an interesting summer experience, but I can now say that the two weeks I spent as a counselor have persuaded me to continue working with kids with special needs throughout this year, and the years to come.