This past summer I spent about six and a half weeks working at an organization called CRF (Coral Restoration Foundation) down in Key Largo, Florida. Two huge parts of the Keys’ economy are diving as well as the tourism opportunities that come with it and fishing. However, over the course of the past thirty or so years, the reefs surrounding this area have been decimated due to the multitude of hurricanes the area has experienced, overfishing, and water pollution among a variety of other factors. Thus, with this depletion of coral, the whole reef ecosystem has been jeopardized as well as the Keys’ economy. To combat this, the Coral Restoration Foundation works to grow coral and plant it back on the reef as well as spread awareness about this issue.
Before I even arrived at the Coral Restoration Foundation, I thought I would be on the front lines of the effort, scuba diving daily and planting coral by the ton. So, when my first task was to build a PVC pipe tree, I was a little surprised. These trees are used to hang the growing coral underwater until they are ready to be planted in a reef. I spent hours on end building trees and putting them together. I thought this was merely a warmup task and that soon I would be getting in the water. Once again, I was mistaken. I spent much of my days working in the education center, answering phone calls and helping to teach visitors about CRF’s cause and effort. These conversations were rewarding as I felt as if this dialogue was helping spread awareness of this issue and shining a bigger light on it.
On my last day of work, I finally received an opportunity to get in the water. Myself, along with fifteen or so other staff members and individuals, went out to a reef, collected the fully grown coral from the PVC trees and then planted them underwater. This experience was a great finale to all my work, as I now got to see all my hard work come to fruition in the form of real, tangible results. However, this day also led to me to another realization. Plenty of people want to go underwater and scuba dive, and CRF will never find a shortage of individuals who want to do that. Thus, its the other aspects of the organization, some of the things that I took part in, that is where Coral Restoration foundation needs the most help. I realized that service can take many different forms, and even if it feels like what you’re doing is not as flashy or “cool” as some of the other methods of service, it is often times that those types often result in the biggest impact, which is truly what service is about.
Coral Restoration Foundation’s website: coralrestoration.org
This past summer I have been able to partake in a number of rare experiences that were very special. I was able to participate in a few college level courses, travel around the world, spend lots of time with friends and family, among a slew of others. These wonderful opportunities and adventures in turn made me a more genial and jovial person, always eager to discover what the next activity would have in store.
This summer I also was able to serve with two charitable organizations, both with somewhat mutual goals. God’s Love We Deliver aims to assist those who are homebound or have trouble purchasing and collecting food by delivering meals several times a week, free of charge. My role was that of deliverer, as I went from apartment complex to apartment complex in uptown manhattan dropping off meal packages with clients of GLWD. The buildings were often tenebrous and dreary, with dark hallways and melancholy wall paper. However, the residents were anything but dreary, with glowing smiles and warm personalities. The appreciativeness and happiness illuminated by something as simple as a quick visit and a few bites to eat really struck me. I had never met any of these people and yet they acted as if we had been friends for years.
The other organization I worked with was that of the Friends Shelter, an organization that provides those who are homeless with a meal and a bed for the night, located in the common room. In working with them I collected materials and then cooked a meal, usually some sort of pasta or meat accompanied by a vegetable and desert. I would then travel to school and drop the meal off at the common room. The supervisors for the night were always amicable, friendly, and very grateful for the meal. “They’re really gonna love this”, I remember the supervisor saying one July night. “This desert especially is going to make them so happy”. Once again, I was taken aback by the shear joy caused by something as simple as a few brownies and a bowl of pasta. A quality of life that I would deem as ordinary or common to really put a smile on people’s faces was something novel to me. Something so simple and fundamental to life itself is capable of giving great happiness and joy.
I have learned from my experiences that one does not need to travel around the world, drive nice cars, or any other luxuries of life to be happy. Rather, the simple things in life really are what makes life special.
For the past couple months, I have assisted Derek Reid and Andrew Domanico in teaching their Kindergarten physical education class once a week. I helped Derek and Andrew with a number of tasks, whether it was setting up equipment, instructing the kids, or simply doing whatever they needed. At the beginning of my time working with this class, I noticed that perhaps the kids were a bit timid or intimidated by me. However, I cannot really blame me for this, as they had never seen me before and were a good two feet shorter than me. Heck, I too would have been taken aback by a towering giant entering my class out of no where. However, as I began interact and play with these kids more and more, they gradually became more comfortable around me. I played in their games, did similar activities, and talked with them, just like another kindergartener would do, and really enjoyed myself. They soon began to realize that I really was not a whole lot different than themselves. I would often times be the subject of their laughter as Derek or Andrew cracked a witty joke or one of their classmates got me in a game of tag. Thus, when I instructed them how to throw properly or hold a baseball bat, the dynamics were different from one of the actual teachers giving them instruction. While they still respected me and recognized that I was older, they thought of me as just another big kid in their class, which allowed me to really enhance their physical education experience.
While it was my duty to instruct and teach these children, in reality they were really teaching me. From these experiences, I have become cognizant of the true value of interacting and being in the lives of those who are younger than yourself. It allows you to not only set an example of how one should behave or act in life, but it helps to knock down the barrier between those who are younger and older. While the difference in age might be large, what is inside these two groups of people really is very largely similar.
This Summer, in a goal to assist in combating New York City hunger and poverty, I worked with two organizations on a few separate occasions. On two days I worked with God’s Love We Deliver, whose mission is to transport food to unfortunate individuals who are unable to acquire it on their own. Throughout these two days I met many different people, with many different ages, all quite amiable and grateful. One was a nice French Man whose intercom system wasn’t working so he had to walk down several flights of stairs to greet us. Despite the inconvenience, he couldn’t have been friendlier and gladly accepted the meal. Another was a man who had been with the organization for sixteen years and lived in a building with an elegant courtyard where a pond of turtles was present in the center. With every single person I delivered to, each one had a warm face and an expression of gratitude whenever I greeted them. My experience with this organization brings to light the vast amount of happiness that can accompany an action as simple as a merely bringing someone a bite to eat. In addition, many of these individuals’ apartments were located in gloomy, dated buildings. The glee that I was met by with each person illustrates that one does not need to live a baronial lifestyle in order to be happy and content in life.
I also served with the Friends’ Shelter, an organization which provides a place to sleep and an evening meal for the homeless. On each of the three days I served, I cooked (with my mother and house keeper) a vegetable, a main course, and a desert. We always baked a 3-4 layer lasagna, as this was the recommended food and could easily serve however many people were going to turn up. We cooked broccoli twice and asparagus once, each with garlic, salt, and other seasonings added. For desert, we prepared a chocolate cake with vanilla icing twice and brownies once. We then delivered the food to the shelter (also known as the common room) where 10-12 made up beds were set up for anyone who wished to spend the night.The only people present at the time were the individuals who volunteered to stay for the night and make sure everything went as planned. The individuals who used the facility would appear later in the night. They were very thankful to receive the meal and wished us a goodnight.
This summer I feel as if I have contributed in combating the issue of city-wide hunger and have gained a newfound comprehension of how to make an impact. I now also understand that small acts of kindness can go a long way in benefiting someone’s life. With this knowledge I have the ability to continue to make strides in assisting to resolve the problem of hunger not just within the community but on a global scale as well. I encourage others to sign up and bring a meal to the Friends Shelter. Sign up HERE.