This summer I volunteered at Camp Robin Hood, a program that helps fight poverty by supporting over 200 organizations. At camp we visited four of these organizations, including the FDNY job-training academy, the Association to Benefit Children (ABC), a soup kitchen and KIPP, a charter school in Washington Heights. At the FDNY job-training academy we learned CPR, experienced a simulation of what it would be like to drive an ambulance and did drills with real hoses. When we visited ABC and Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Center for Babies, Toddlers & Families, each of us got the chance to take care of one or two children during a trip to the Bronx Zoo. Before we went to the soup kitchen, we were split into groups of two and were given 30 dollars each to create a healthy set of meals that would last a family a whole week. After we completed this challenge we brought the food we had purchased to the soup kitchen and made sandwiches for people in need. When we visited KIPP, we were split into groups of three and assigned to a classroom to play with the children there.
My experiences at Camp Robin Hood reinforced how difficult it would be to be a child growing up below the poverty line. Part of ABC’s mission is to disrupt the cycle of poverty both by providing childcare and education for children growing up in poverty. When we were able to interact with the families and staff at Albert Einstein, I saw that they were trying everything possible to provide the best for their children. Because some of the parents were dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues, the staff provided extra support for the children and the parents. At the end of the week the other volunteers and I had a debate: if we could only fund one of the four organizations which would we choose? Almost every volunteer voted for education and early childhood. We believed that the most likely way to break the cycle of poverty would be to focus on the children.
This summer I had the privilege of heading back up to Vermont to spend 6 and a half weeks at a summer camp for teens. This was my second summer at this camp, Tamarack Farm. Since it is a camp for 15-17 year olds, we are given a lot of freedom as well as a lot of responsibilities. We had early mornings at The Farm. Each cabin is given a chore for the week to make sure things run on time at The Farm. Each cabin is responsible for getting barn chores done for at least one week of the 6 weeks. After that, barn chores are optional and encouraged if one can find time between their other chores, such as driving trash down to the bins, making breakfast, cleaning up the KYBOS (the outhouses), and so on. Working on The Farm was a very demanding and rewarding job. Barn chores happen every day at 6:00 am and 4:00 pm. To get there on time, one has to wake up at 5:30 and come prepared with long pants and boots to combat the cold Vermont mornings. There were many jobs to get done before breakfast to make sure the animals were taken care of, then with extra time, we’d move over to tend to the garden. Jobs included mucking out the animals’ pens, filling their food and water, milking, walking, brushing, and feeding the cows, brushing the bunnies, and weeding in the garden.
The newest edition to our farm! Nova was born on the 4th week of camp. Here she is, minutes after being born, with her mom, Nevada.
On Tuesdays and Fridays, we would harvest all the produce ready to get sent to the kitchens. On those days, I’d be in “the pit” which is where we would clean and pack all the produce and do the invoices to get ready to send everything to the kitchens. The position was called Harvest Manager, and we’d (me and 2 other campers) would lead the other campers in harvesting vegetables by telling them what and how to harvest, how to clean it properly, and where to put it. After that, the Managers would weigh the food, pack it up, label it, and put it on the truck where we’d drive to the other camps to bring the produce into their kitchen.
My friends working in the pit
Another project we worked on this summer, was building a new barn for the animals. It was a demanding job, and quite difficult since it was raining most of the summer. Every morning for 3 weeks I worked on getting a roof on the new building. This job included measuring and cutting pieces of wood that will fit for the sheathing. As we got father up the rafting, it became harder and harder to get the screws in, so after the 2nd week, a few of us had to put on heavy harnesses clipped into ropes so that we could get to the boards that were higher up on the rafters. It was so interesting to understand how to make the boards fit and get the screws in while basically hanging off the edge of a 2 story building. It was so rewarding to see the barn get finished by the end of the summer and be able to stand under the structure without getting rained on.
Me screwing in some boards
Another opportunity I had this summer was to work in the kitchen. It was a really cool experience to see the food we were bringing in from the garden being used in what we were cooking. There were many times over the summer where I would walk into the refrigerator in the kitchen and see my own hand writing on the boxes of produce from my time working in the pit boxing up vegetables to send to the kitchen. We were also given the chance to cook a meal on our own for all of camp (about 90 people) and we learned the difficulties and triumphs of cooking for a large group of people.
Working in the kitchen
Lastly, one of the coolest things we got to do this summer was go phone banking for Migrant Justice . Two staff members took a group of 10 teens to Middlebury, VT where we met with a group of people who were part of Migrant Justice’s Milk With Dignity movement gave us a debrief on what they were doing, and then gave us the chance to join them in calling people in the area to ask for donations. During this time, I got hung up on a lot and most people didn’t answer, but some people were very happy to donate and tell me stories about their own involvement with Migrant Justice. It was moments of connections with people like those that really made me believe in the power of the people.
Overall, I am so grateful for the opportunities I had this summer. Our constant discussions about social justice, my involvement with the farm and contributing to the community showed me what I can do with my own two hands. It also gave me a much deeper appreciation for the farmers and carpenters all over the world. It was a summer I definitely won’t forget.