I was so lucky to have the opportunity to travel to Tobago with the Men’s Varsity Soccer team in late August. Service was a large component to our trip. Our service included helping to organize soccer training sessions for local children. After the session we presented soccer equipment to donate to the kids who participated in the training session, as part of a program called “Kleats for Kids.” Playing with and joking around with the kids during the training session before we helped them try cleats on made the donations feel even more special. Also, the fact that we were able to help Warren in his effort to give back to the school and soccer program that he attended made the experience feel more personal.
This summer I worked at a day camp in Ocean Beach, a town in Fire Island. I was a group counselor for the 8 year olds, which entailed walking the kids from activity to activity and playing with them while at activities. I swam in the ocean with my group, played sports with my group, went fishing with my group, and much more, including using countless strategies to try to get the kids to walk faster. Despite my role as an authority figure over the kids, the bond I formed with several of the kids created such a friendly environment that was fun for the kids and me as well. I won’t forget the moment when I asked one of my campers what his favorite activities were, and he responded, “I like sailing…and I like boating a lot too, but I think my favorite is playing with you.” Bonding with my 8 year olds as the summer went on was rewarding, but what was most rewarding was knowing that I was helping out the Ocean Beach Youth Group (OBYG) community. I have been going to this camp summer after summer ever since I was a camper at 4 years old and have grown up seeing the same kids every year. I still see my old counselors on the beach on the weekends, many of whom have jobs during the week in the city. From the close relationships that I’ve developed and the memories that I’ve cherished, the OBYG community has given so much to me. It was beyond meaningful to be able to help the community that is so special to me.
This year I was part of the outreach initiative called Head Start. The Head Start Program is an organization in New York City that offers families in poverty free educational programs for children three to five years old. I volunteered to play with kids at one of the Head Start centers. Within a few short hours of playing with dinosaurs and rockets I felt like I was able to connect with the kids and make sure they all had fun. It occurred to me that many of these kids were at Head Start in the late afternoon well after three o’clock, when most kids would be picked up by their parents. For whatever reason, be it work or something else, the children’s parents were unable to pick them up so they waited at Head Start. It was fulfilling to make these children smile and laugh but it was even more fulfilling to know that, in my small way, I was helping a potentially struggling, time-pressed parent get through a busy day by making sure their child was having fun until the parent had time to pick the child up.
For the YPI project my group focused on homelessness in relation to substance abuse and mental illness in New York City. We found that the number of homeless people in the city has been rising over the years with more than 53,000 people in homeless shelters. This number does not account for the vast number of people sleeping in the streets and on subways. Of the more than 53,000 homeless people, almost 40 percent suffer from substance abuse and 64 percent suffer from mental illness. To gain more incite on the social issue my group worked researched and visited the Bowery Residents Committee (BRC), a non-profit organization. BRC helps homeless people throughout the city. They have shelters located all over the New York City that give meals, places to sleep, and different programs for their clients depending on the client’s needs. We quickly learned that BRC emphasizes helping their clients make goals and that each client is unique. Most of all, BRC helps clients care about themselves and regain hope.
The YPI project was very informative and gave me a new perspective on homelessness. It was very rewarding to put my efforts into a real issue in the city because I was given the chance to make a real difference in someone’s life. Even though my group did not win the five thousand dollar donation to BRC it was still meaningful to raise awareness for BRC and an issue important to me. Also, visiting a BRC shelter and interviewing Muzzy, the Executive Director, gave me a new outlook on the homeless and on substance abuse. Some experiences during my site visit were seeing clients do art, and introducing myself and meeting a couple clients. It was personal experiences like these and seeing homeless people in a setting besides the street that made me not think of the homeless people as a whole. The YPI project gave me a new outlook on the homeless where they are each very unique with his or her own life story.