On Tuesday April 30th, members from the Kalief Browder Foundation and Friends students went to Albany to lobby for the H.A.L.T Solitary Confinement Act to be brought to the floor as soon as possible. Upon our arrival, I had the first meeting with my group with majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Even though the meeting was only 10 minutes, I spoke about the detrimental impacts of solitary confinement and my group members spoke more about the bill, shared personal stories and important statistics to persuade senator Stewart-Cousins to bring the bill to the floor. In the afternoon, my second group and I met with a representative of Senator Alessandra Biaggi, already a co-sponsor of the bill, to persuade her to ask other senators to sign the bill and continue advocating for it. Meeting the senators and their representatives in Albany gave me insight on how advocacy is not a one time event. When Senator Stewart-Cousins explained to us the the difficulties of supporting the H.A.L.T. bill and told us about opposition and social tensions regarding the bill, I understood that the fight and the work for advocating for a cause you support is ongoing. I also had the opportunity of listening to other senators at an open press conference between the two meetings. The senators were co sponsors of the bill and although they were very genuine in their support for the bill and the people, it was evident that they could not promise or make quick actions for the bill to be passed, but it was a continuous and rigorous process.
This past fall, I spent a semester in Colorado at HMI. An important part of HMI’s emphasis on outdoor education is teaching us the LNT principles and how to reduce our impact while hiking and living in the outdoors. During one of our 18 day backpacking trips, we volunteered with the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (CFI). CFI works to reduce the impact of human foot traffic on the Colorado Fourteeners by building trails and markers to these trails. For 3 days, we base camped with CFI and helped them build the trail up Mt. Huron. We worked together to carry boulders using a net and chop down dead trees. We also dug massive holes in the woods so that we could put the dirt from those holes onto the trail, to make the dirt more firmly packed and thus reduce the impact of runoff during storms. This experience was impactful, as I learned about the hard work it takes to maintain trails. Through downpours, wind, and thunder, we kept working to preserve this trail. This experience made me grateful to initiatives like CFI, for without their work, many trails wouldn’t exist.
This year I had the opportunity to volunteer with Flying Manes on Saturdays for a few weeks. Flying Manes is an organization that uses equine therapy to help kids with mental and physical disabilities. As a volunteer I prepare the horses for lessons, lead the horses, and act as a secondary sidewalker. This experience has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done! I get to pair my love for horses with my passion for community service, and I have been fortunate enough to work with some of the best kids and horses during my time there. It’s incredible to see the difference that hippotherapy can make in kids that have trouble walking or expressing themselves. This opportunity has been very impactful in my life and I look forward to volunteering with the Flying Manes summer camp program and continuing to volunteer during the school year.
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.