This past summer, I volunteered at Star Learning Center (http://www.goddard.org/page/tutoring-at-star-learning-center-58.html). Star Learning Center is an organization part of Goddard Riverside Community Center. The Center provides one-to-one academic tutoring for low-income students in grades 2-12. With an extensive resource center, a well-stocked library, computers, and dedicated volunteer tutors, the Star Learning Center helps more than 300 students each year find critical support. I spent my time there tutoring a seventh grader, L’Orena, in reading and writing. During our first session, I recommended that we read Catcher in the Rye, my favorite novel, together in addition to her school work. This was a fun and exciting way for her to begin practicing reading with enjoyable books, rather than doing exercises from school. By the end of our time together, L’Orena became a great reader and writer. It was satisfying to see her succeed.
On May 13th, I spent the afternoon making bowls in the Ceramic Studio for Empty Bowls. This was the first time that I had participated in the project. Empty Bowls is an international project to fight hunger on a community level. At the beginning, Jack gave a thoughtful discussion on hunger in New York City. I knew that hunger in New York City was a large epidemic, but hearing that 1/7 families do not know where their next meal will come from surprised me. To me, the idea that artists and groups can create bowls, and in the process, attempt to end hunger is incredible. It is great to be able to do fun activities like pottery, and help people at the same time. With only 5 people there, the event felt personal. I enjoy making art, so this organization is particularly attractive to me. Although I am disappointed that I have not attended more sessions in the past, I look forward to attending many in the future.
For the past two years, I have been involved in photographing children that live in the various homes provided by the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (JBFCS) (https://www.jbfcs.org/). This past christmas, I participated in creating a music video with the children who live at the Henry Ittleson Center, which belongs to JBFCS. Here, young, emotionally traumatized disturbed children come to the Center to seek treatment. Ranging from 5 to 13 years old, they are often diagnosed with psychosis, depression, bipolar disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder. These children come to live at the Ittleson House after they are referred.
This past holiday season, I participated in shooting a music video of these children. Initially, I was apprehensive, as I was warned that the children are often unpredictable around Christmas without their families. As soon as I walked in, a young boy ran away, refusing to be apart of the video. I feared that the day was doomed. However, I was happily surprised at the response. I asked girls of various ages to choose the music, and the boys decided on the instruments. They performed 8 songs as an ensemble. The girls were dressed in pink wigs, and sang into sequined microphones. The boys had their hair sprayed in bright colors, and played blow-up saxophones. It was my my favorite day as a photographer for JBFCS yet. By the end of the day, the boy who had once left, was drawn by the music. He came back, and thanked me, explaining that he was now inspired to take photographs just as I do.
About a month ago, I was invited to photograph the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (JBFCS)(http://www.jbfcs.org) “Geller House.” JBFCS is one of the nation’s largest mental health and social services agencies. It has been established for over 110 years. The Geller House is one of its main services which provides aid towards young adults. The home is a short-term residential diagnostic center that provides assessment, treatment, and aftercare planning for adolescents, ages 11 to 15, from all boroughs.
I truly enjoyed my experience photographing these young adults. It was nice to spend time with people my age and become acquainted with them over the course of an entire day. I think they also appreciated my age. Many of these teens hadn’t ever had their picture taken, so they were very excited and thankful. One girl even told me that it was the best day she has ever had at the Geller House. In truth, I think I got more out of the day from them than they did from me. Hearing each teen’s and interacting with young adults so different from myself and those who are usually around me was humbling and changed my perception for the better. I learned to appreciate my time at school more because many of those whom I met at the home have not been provided with education past elementary school.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to photograph the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (http://www.bcrfcure.org) and Seventeen Magazine’s (http://www.seventeen.com) “Protect Your Girls Event.” The event was founded by teenage girls around my own age, who wanted to find a unique and creative way to give back. Over 50 teens decorated bras with unconventional materials that ranged from CD’s to feathers. The only rule for the challenge was that fabric was not allowed. Famous judges picked winners who were rewarded with prizes such as Jingle Ball tickets to a day at Seventeen Magazine. In the end, the day was successful, with large proceeds from the event all donated to BCRF.
I was honored to be rewarded with the pleasure of having my photographs published in Seventeen Magazine. Furthermore, I learned much more about the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the cancer in general. It was inspiring to hear stories of residents in New York City who either had breast cancer, or had some connection to it. For me, it was truly a humbling and rewarding experience. It is unusual that I am able to give back and pursue my passion at the same time.