For the fall semester, I was in Israel on a study abroad program. Throughout the semester, I had a few opportunities to participate in community service abroad, which gave me a lot of insight into the work that small organizations around the world do. We worked mostly with small, local community organizations. These included a beach cleanup in Tel Aviv, work at a local elderly care center that housed a few survivors of the Holocaust, and religious organizations whose missions related to social justice (https://www.womenofthewall.org.il). Getting to interact with these people from all across the country, and to hear about the important work that they do, and then support them, was an amazing experience. I have always enjoyed doing local community service here in New York, but my recent opportunities to help when I am abroad have been eye-opening. I am just beginning to understand how vital the work that some small, but strong, organizations do around the globe.
On April 30th at 7am, a group of 30 students from Friends Seminary as well as members from the Kalief Browder Foundation drove up to Albany to lobby for the H.A.L.T Solitary Confinement Act to be pushed onto the floor immediately. After we arrived, we were divided up into groups of 3 and given schedules/room numbers of different senators and representatives that we were booked to have a 5-10 minute meeting with. Meeting with politicians one on one, not just watching a video through a screen or reading some quotes, was an immensely valuable experience. I was able to see how easy it was to get wrapped up in the eloquence of one’s words and realize 10 minutes later at the end of the meeting that they had not managed to even broach the one question we had asked. It was frustrating but a kind of frustration that pushed to only be more direct, emphatic, knowledgable of the facts and ensure that we got the answer that we wanted next: for these senators and represtatnive to vote YES when H.A.L.T. was placed on the floor. The other memorable part of our trip was the replica of a solitary cell. Once inside, the room seems to drop 10 degrees. The greys on the wall became unsettling, the soundtrack of crying, insufferable mumbling, and an unbreakably loud silence is overwhelming. Once the door closes and you are left alone, arguments of money, budgeting, and priorities are drowned out by the immediate sense of despair and isolation that covers every inch of the room. The Albany Lobbying trip is an experience that taught me more than any political class could ever as well as instilled in me an understanding about the utmost necessity of fighting for those who do not have a voice in a world that works to only silence them further.
This year I volunteered with Reading Partners ( http://readingpartners.org )at PS 188 for the third year and I had a really great experience. I have really enjoyed working with the students and seeing them improve over the course of the year. I worked primarily with a six year old student named Guadalupe who went from barely knowing the alphabet to reading short stories over the course of the school year. Reading Partners creates a fun learning environment for struggling students to improve their reading and comprehension skills, and the students seem to genuinely enjoy it. I look forward to tutoring with Reading Partners again next year!
In October, I went on a father-daughter mission trip to New Orleans with my family’s church. In New Orleans, we did service projects at St. Michaels, a school for kids with autism and down syndrome. This year we attended classes, reorganized the school’s garden and sorted beads with the kids. In addition, we went to a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in New Orleans. We organized bags of food which we handed out people living underneath bridges. All in all, it was great to see the kids again as it was my third year on the trip and it was great to know that we made an impact in the three days of the trip.
In march I went to a project cicero event where we organized books for public school teachers to take. The event made me realize how I take all the books and resources at school for granted. I enjoyed the experience, and it felt good to give back to less fortunate students.
In March, I helped Project Cicero organize used books for public school teachers. The event was chaotic since there were lots of people frantically lifting heavy boxes and rolling piles of books around. However, I enjoyed moving the books because it brought me back to the times when I was a young child reading these same texts. The books were organized by topic. I was excited to see that there was a non-fiction section of used books for students to read since that was my favorite genre when I was younger.
This March, I volunteered at the annual Project Cicero book drive at the Hotel Pennsylvania. I helped unpack and sort donated books for teachers to take for use in under-resourced New York public schools. As I was unpacking these books, teachers came in to take books for their own classrooms. It was a heartening experience to see how many people were there to volunteer and how ready they were to help. As someone who has always loved to read, I loved seeing teachers take books that I used to read continuously, since I knew another kid might soon enjoy those books as much as I did. Although the room was overwhelming at first because of the crowd and noise, I soon got used to how hectic it was, and I enjoyed being a part of the experience. I remember from my time at a public school how hard it can be for teachers to have access to the books they need, and Project Cicero really helps to bring new books to those classrooms. I had a really positive experience with Project Cicero, and I definitely think that I will volunteer next year.
I went to governors island with many friends students and parents in order to help Earth Matter in honor of 9/11. We started off the day by taking a ferry to governors island. We then helped the organization to remove weeds from plant. I also helped move dirt around in carts. We then toured some parts of the island and learned more about what Earth Matter does and how they were helping. We ended the day with removing more weeds from plants.
During Maker Day for the lower school, I helped run the “nerdy derby” event. During this event, I helped students create little styrofoam cars that they would roll down a ramp. I also helped to organize when each student would roll their car down the ramp to make sure it did not get too chaotic. I really enjoyed helping with this event because I got to meet the lower school students and their parents, which helped me to be able to connect with the entire FS community.
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.