At the beginning of the summer, I spent one week participating in a Fellowship program at Robin Hood. Over the course of the week we focused on learning how poverty in and around the New York City area impacts so many people. We had the ability to work closely with, and spend our time at some of the best poverty fighting organizations in New York City. Specifically, we learned about educational differences, hunger issues and work programs. We presented on this issues at the end of the week. It was both an eye opening week and an incredible experience.
At the beginning of the summer I was invited to participate in a Robin Hood Fellowship. This program lasted for a week and focused on fighting poverty. On one of the days we went to an early childhood center in Staten Island, GABI (Group Attachment Based Intervention), and got to interact with kids and mothers there. Before we traveled to Staten Island, we heard a presentation on why early childhood development is so important for providing children with the tools to become successful adults. This center helps equip struggling parents with the support to raise their children in a way that is beneficial to their kids, but also to them. On the last day we did a presentation on one of the places we had visited during the week, and I got to present on the importance of early childhood development and the work GABI does.
On another day, we met the president of the Center for Urban Community Services and visited one of their residential buildings in the Bronx. The Center offers “supportive housing,” which gives people housing after they have been homeless, in the hospital, or in other difficult circumstances. We met with a few people who live there, and they all said how much of a positive impact this affordable housing has had on their lives. The Center provides not only housing, but also a range of activities, such as therapy and job training.
On the last day we visited Housing Works, where we learned about safe injection sites and harm reduction, both of which are intended to limit drug overdoses. At this site we saw a presentation and interacted with people use the health care programs at Housing Works. This experience helped me to understand how different people’s lives can be. It also showed me that life is such a lottery, because we can’t control what circumstances we’re born into.
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.
For this year’s day of service we went to the AFYA organization. AFYA deals with medical supplies that are being thrown away, but still could be good. AFYA sends these still good medical supplies to places in need all over the world, for example: Syria and Haiti. Six advisories went to AFYA for service day. We looked through lots of medical supplies and put the good medical supplies in bags and through out the expired ones.
I learned that some thrown away medical supplies could still be repuroposed and used. I think that the work they are doing is great, but I think that more volunteers would be beneficial, because we did the amount of work it would take one person to do in approximately 20 days. I think they could also find a better way to sort the medical supplies becuase so much of it gets thrown away.
Over the summer my family and I visited Kenya, where we met a woman named Bathsheba who told us her life story. She recounted the horrors she endured in her life to us. She made us aware of the sexual, physical and verbal abuse she went through in her life. She told us how she had been stalked because some people in her community believed her rich husband was still alive. They wanted to kill him and take his money. At one point the story became too much for her and she actually passed out on top of Phoebe. After we heard all of this, we decided we needed to do something for her.
Phoebe, our friends, and I decided to raise money for her to start her own business. Over the summer we did two bake sales, raising over $200 for Bathsheba to start her own hair-braiding company. We couldn’t just give her money directly because it would make her a target for the people who had hurt her and her family in the past. Refuge Point , a charity that helps refugees start their lives again, used our bake sale money to give Bathsheba a grant to use for her business. This experience affected the way I think about money and how much money is worth in different places. It is sometimes difficult to figure out the best way to help people, and this organization (Refuge Point) helped me understand how to do that.
In what ways has your attitude toward your social issue changed over the course of the project?
My attitude toward my social issue has changed a lot towards the beginning of the project. During the beginning, I was sick so I had no idea what we were even doing. My group had emailed me saying we will be helping homeless lgbtq+ youths who have been kicked out of their homes due to ignorance. At first I thought, okay, pretty cool topic very unique. However as the project progressed, I grew to understand why this issue is important and why need need to inform parents and teachers ect… that their is nothing wrong with being in the lgbtq+ community. I of course had this view at the beginning but with the project I have been able to learn people’s stories and statistics that really shocked me.
What communication skills did you develop over the course of the project?
Over the course of this project I have developed a better public speaking voice. During the first presentation I was not very clear and spoke sort of quietly. During the last presentation, I think my voice was really heard and I had more enthusiasm than I did before. This project has also helped me get in touch with important people. Even though it was relatively easy for our group to contact our charity, does not mean everyone shared this experience.
Over the summer I worked at an animal shelter called Bideawee in West Hampton. The experience was amazing. I got to work with cats and dogs. I got to help clean and organize all of the miscellaneous items around the shelter. Another one of my responsibilities was socializing the cats and dogs. I loved this! I would play with them for hours. I would get to learn their personalities. It was a lot of fun.
One of my favorite parts was getting to see the new animals come in, then returning to find that they were gone because they had been adopted. I loved seeing the animals getting adopted as it made me so happy to know they were going to a good home. Bideawee does extensive research into who can adopt from them. You know that when a cat or dog is adopted at Bideawee it is going to a good home. When I go back next year I hope all of the animals will be adopted.
The one thing that stood out to me most was a cat named Matilda who had a feline affliction. I’m not sure what it is called, but it is caused from abandonment at a young age which causes problems in the brain, such as severe balance problems. Every time I walked past her room she would meow at me in a nice way, kind of saying, “Come play with me.” So every day I worked there I spent about an hour or more playing with her and helping her eat, sleep or go to the bathroom. It really made an impact on how I view cats now. Before I met Matilda, I thought all cats had great lives, just sleeping and eating. Now I know that not all cats are as fortunate as others. Next year I hope I will see Matilda again and that I will be able to have the same rewarding experience I did this time.