This winter, I, with a group of Friends students, planted bulbs in Stuyvesant Park. A woman (whose name I don’t remember, unfortunately) overlooks the upkeep of the park as well as trying to make it a more beautiful and enjoyable space. This year there were thousands of bulbs to plant, so each of us had a lot of work to do. In addition to feeling like I was anonymously contributing to the area in which many people spend a great deal of time, I knew that I would be able to enjoy the results of the work that my peers and I did together. It was a surprisingly good feeling to know that the people who enjoyed the tulips and daffodils would not know that I had contributed, and nonetheless my work would hopefully make people’s park experiences more enjoyable. It was also a lot of fun coming out together, listening to music in the cold, and figuring out a system to get them planted efficiently.
This summer I volunteered at the same senior House as last year. This time around, however, I switched between two addresses, depending on which place needed regarding if the respective places needed a helping hand. Like last year, I would go to the senior House during the morning hours—9 am to 12am usually.
However, rather than playing the piano as background music for the elderlies, I engaged in more physical work. This included helping out in the kitchen and doing general labor. In one place, there was only one person managing over 30 elders, and my help helped relieve some of the burden on his shoulder.
I do not regret forming relationships with the older people around me, as I still recognize some of them from the past year. They truly have some amazing stories to tell.
This summer in particular, I got to appreciate the value of labor and how defeated our society would be if we didn’t have people working on these kind of jobs. I learned that labor requires focus, precision, and dedication. I began to think of tasks such as cleaning my room or miscellaneous chores as helping me to prepare for the future. Because I know that when I’m living by myself in the future it’s important to be organized with everything, otherwise you will fall apart on the inside.
I also have to say that he food they provided during lunch was amazing. The senior House orders food from a company that specializes in making Chinese food. I was never let down when I went there every Saturday.
Volunteering at the senior House taught me how to be organized, attention to detail, and a deeper gratitude to those who work labor jobs every day. The lasting relationships I had with the kitchen staff and with the elders has been very inspiring. I hope to go back next year. Even if I don’t, I would have taken the values given to me there and have applied them to other situations in the future.
As a two year member of Friends’ CHAI club, which stands for Children’s Hardships Awareness Initiatives, I recently started volunteering at a program called Sunday Circle, a subset program of the organization, the Friendship Circle, with a few fellow CHAI members every other Sunday. The program’s mission is that they believe every person is worthy and deserving of love and care, regardless of any limitations that they may have which inhibit their abilities to do various things. The program serves families with children who have special needs and this Sunday program allows those children to be engaged in an intimate space through one-on-one time with teachers and teenage volunteers throughout the city. It aims to provide a space where they can feel empowered and make the most of their own abilities through various forms of therapeutic movement, sports, and music. Volunteers spend two hours with the kids in focused play time and music circles; we play soccer, sing songs, dance, etc.
I was not sure to expect upon deciding to volunteer at this program. I, at first, likened it to babysitting and assumed it would be similar. However, now that I have spent a lot of time with individual kids, I feel like I am providing something that they may not get in other spaces. I understand why the program is called Friendship Circle because I, along with the other volunteers, are enriching the lives of these kids when others may not see the urgency and importance of integrating children with special needs into our larger community. I spend time with an eleven year old girl named Sammy, who loves to dance, and she is one of the bravest people I know, having undergone multiple surgeries and other frequent and miscellaneous doctor’s appointments at only eleven years old. This program has taught me the importance of human interaction and the curative powers that spending time with people holds.