On Saturdays since November, I have spent my afternoons being a supportive Buddy at Safe Haven Basketball. Safe Haven is a basketball league for special needs kids to have fun and be active. I support the session with 8-14 year-olds. Alongside other buddies, I help the players do their warmup drills, run basketball drills involving dribbling, passing, and shooting, and overall help players improve their basketball skills. During the last hour of the session, the players have a basketball game and as a buddy I make sure players go to their correct defensive positions and get a turn with the ball.
This service has been a very rewarding experience because I get to see players improve not only their basketball skills but also their confidence.
This year, I assumed co-leadership of a service club called CHAI, or Children’s Hardship Awareness Initiative. As part of the club’s mission, members who wish to do so volunteer almost every weekend at either Sunday Circle, a program aimed to help special-needs children learn to interact with the world around them through gentle guidance from teenage volunteers, or the Association to Benefit Children’s Saturday Open Door Program, during which volunteers play with children from the East Harlem community while their parents take ESL, parenting, and fitness classes. Taking a leadership role was frightening initially, but over time I have come to appreciate my new ability to help Friends students engage more actively with service in their communities.
Sunday Circle has been a learning experience for me. I didn’t know what to expect during my first visit, but the warmth and openness from the children with whom I was working encouraged me to participate actively in the program. On one particular day, a friend and I taught a mostly non-verbal little boy named Abe with a love for music a song and game that I learned at summer camp. Seeing Abe, who sometimes struggles to get out of his own head, learn and love the song was so heartening to us; we could really see the impact we were making on these kids’ lives. Some weeks are harder than others, but earning the children’s trust and being able to give them a safe space for positive interaction with their peers has been such an amazing experience.
Over the summer, my brother and I went to Cartagena, Colombia to volunteer as English teachers at Squash Urbano in August. Squash Urbano provides opportunities for children from the age of 5-16 that come from low-income families to have an education and play squash. Since my brother and I aren’t the best at squash, we stayed in the classroom teaching the kids English. It was amazing to see the attitude 0f wanting to learn that they came with to every class. Although at times it was hard to teach the students without speaking Spanish to them, I managed to find creative ways to help them understand a concept.
All in all, the relationships with the squash instructors and kids is what makes me want to keep coming and helping. Going to Cartagena makes me realize how thankful I should be for all the opportunities I have by living in New York.
This summer I volunteered to help the rising juniors on their ex ed trip. My responsibilities were to make a good role model for the other students, to make sure I was there if anybody needed help, to assist in cooking dinner and often lead hikes. This trip was significant to me because it allowed me to exercise my leadership skills and help other students while doing something that I love. It is crucial to enjoy whatever service you are doing because otherwise you will not put your all of your effort into it and it won’t be a meaningful experience. I also volunteered on this trip because I might want to go into outdoor education when I am older, helping other students to really understand why they should love the outdoors as much as I do.
Over the weekend I helped prepare the St. Thomas Church garden for the winter. I helped spread mulch on the garden beds and remove the leaves from the garden area. Knowing that what was to be grown was going to families in need of cheap and accessible food made me feel like I was helping fight a bigger cause.
Recently, I volunteered to be a tour guide at the Bank Street School for Children open house twice. I attended this school from 4th grade (9/10’s) to 8th grade (13/14’s). I have volunteered to be a tour guide at this school when I attended there, but going back as an alum was a very different experience.
Because it is a K-8 school, the parents were very interested in my experiences adjusting to a new school after going to the same school for such a long time. In some ways, I could relate to the parents on the tour; they were looking at every detail they could possibly see, asking all sorts of questions, just like when I went on tours for the high school application process.
As much as this service experience helped the school and the admissions team, I think that this experience also helped me practice my public speaking skills to a large audience, which is something that I struggle with. It also forced me to reflect on my life so far. What accomplishments have I achieved during my time at Bank Street? What were some challenges I had to overcome? What are the most memorable academic experiences that you had?
I was initially planning to do this when I graduated, even when I didn’t know about the community service hour requirements. Bank Street has a special place in my heart, and it always will. Through this experience, I got to reconnect with friends from my grade and the grades below me. I got to reconnect with parents I knew in the school. I got to reconnect with teachers and faculty. Because I got to work with my previous school, it was a very personal and fun experience and yes, I would do it again.
This summer, The girls and boys varsity soccer teams traveled to Tobago to train and contribute to the community. We lead a soccer clinic where we were coached and played with local young soccer players. At the end of the clinic, we distributed soccer equipment that we organized and brought from New York. I really enjoyed talking and playing with the local girls. They were in the minority and it was interesting to watch their dynamic with the other boys who were playing. The girls varsity team later played a lot of these girls in real 11 v 11 games and it was really fun to continue to form friendships with them.
Over the summer, I worked for Zephyr Teachout’s campaign for NY attorney general. I helped campaign by making phone calls, putting up posters in front of stores and construction sites, and handing out pamphlets for her campaign. It was really difficult to get people to actually stop and listen, but making an impression on people was really satisfying. When it comes to positions like attorney general, a lot of people don’t really think about their decision so being able to inform them was really important.
At the end of August I went to Trinidad Tobago with the girls and boys varsity soccer teams. The first couple days were spent playing soccer games against the girls teams in Tobago. This was a great learning experience as many of the girls were very skillful. On the third day we went to a soccer field and practiced with kids of many age ranges living in Tobago. Unfortunately I was injured and unable to play, so I helped organize the soccer gear that was going to be donated to the kids. I helped many of the kids find their sizes in cleats and jerseys. It was great to see how happy they were when they saw all the new soccer gear especially since some of them had very worn down gear. Overall this was a great learning experience.
This August, I traveled to Tobago with the Girls and Boys Varsity Soccer teams. We played multiple games against teams there as well as having the chance to work with some of the kids enrolled in a soccer program there. We met them at a huge soccer field where some of their families had come to watch from the bleachers. There was a very big age range, from kids in lower school all the way through to high school. We warmed-up with them, did some conditioning, practiced drills, did cool-downs, and then they each got to chose at least one item from our donations. We had brought soccer jerseys, shorts, shin guards, cleats, and soccer socks fro them to chose from. While we practiced with them, we got the chance to chat and get to know them better. We asked each other questions about everything from hobbies to school.
One little girl asked me “What is snow like?” I started telling her about how it looks when it falls from the sky, how there are so many different types of snow, and how it feels to touch it. By the end of our conversation, two of her friends had come over and enthusiastically asked me to tell them more about it. Until that point, I had never thought of snow as having any kind of value. It was always just something that happened in winter, and if you wanted to you could play in it. Of course, when I was younger I would get excited when I woke up and there was a White Christmas or if there was a Snow Day for school and I got to go sledding, but I had always taken it for granted. That night when we got back to out hotel, I thought about all the things I take for granted. I realized that there are so many things, from my pets and the fact that we can take them to the vet regularly, to being able to ski every winter in Vermont, to not having to think twice about buying new soccer gear when it gets worn out, to my phone which I use everyday, and even to the fact that I was able to go to Tobago at all. I thought about how one small conversation was able to have such an affect on me and now I cannot wait to go on more service trips and meet more people.