This past summer, I was a fellow at the Robin Hood Foundation, where I, along with several other teenagers from around the Tri-state area, went on site visits to numerous organizations funded by Robin Hood. Each day, we focused on another element of poverty and had the opportunity to further explore it through conversations with employees of each organization and our time at the sites. Throughout the week, as I was enlighted by how deep-rooted poverty is in the city, I was appalled by how sheltered I am in my everyday life. Even though I’ve been to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, I never knew about its history, contribution to NYC’s economy by providing and preserving quality jobs, and role in connecting the local community. I knew what a shelter was, but I’ve never stepped foot in one. The abstract, horrible image of poverty that I pictured in my head began to clear up as I got a glimpse of the destitution we’ve always talked about but hardly get to see first-hand. I was particularly touched by our visit to immigration court, where we met with pro-bono attorneys from the Safe Passage Project who represent unaccompanied minors. As we were led through the daunting corridors lined with waiting individuals, I began to imagine how scary it would be for a child to have to find their name on one of the numerous sheets of paper stapled to the wall and represent themselves in a foreign language. Besides solidifying my commitment to service after Friends, my time at the Robin Hood Foundation reminded me that there’s a lot to the world that we don’t get to see at a glimpse and must make a conscious effort to further discover a fuller picture.
While in Washington DC during the first semester, I volunteered at Thompson Elementary School. I worked there with my classmates for three hours a day. One hour was spent playing basketball and the other two reading with the kids. Thompson Elementary is a predominantly African American and hispanic underfunded public school. In general the goal of the program, “Books and Basketball”, was to keep the students off of the streets for the three hours after school. The parents of the kids were generally unable to pick their kids up after school, because they were still at work, so the program also helped the families gaining them three hours extra of work. Working with the kids was a lot of fun. Both their reading and athletic skills grew exponentially throughout the duration of the program, and both they and their parents were grateful for our work.
For Service day this year, my advisory went to a Food Bank in Harlem that provides groceries to underprivileged individuals. We went to help distribute the food products. This was a really amazing experience to be a part of. I was able to use my Spanish skills to communicate with those who came for food. We were able to help them pick out a balanced set of groceries. All the people who came for groceries were incredibly thankful and kind. I felt like my classmates and I were really making a difference in these peoples lives. When doing service a lot of the time you don’t see the direct positive impact you are having because you are normally separated from the people you are helping. Being able to see the positive impact I was making in the lives of these people and in the community was something amazing to be a part of. Having this great experience made me want to help at a food bank again in the future.
Over the summer I started volunteering at a soup-kitchen called Chips, in my neighborhood, Park Slope, Brooklyn. I discovered the organization through the Park Slope Food Cooperative, a market that my parents shop at. (The Coop donates fresh produce to Chips.) I began to volunteer at Chips in order to fulfill my service requirement, but my experience has been so rewarding that I carve out a few hours every month to go there. I started out serving food, but over time I began to help out in the kitchen too – helping to make the meals. The reason why I enjoy volunteering at Chips is the appreciation that the clientele show. What I may see as a simple meal is way more to the people who come in, and many are bubbling with gratitude. Smiles and things people say like “God Bless you” warm my heart and make me wants to continue to help.
For service day 2017, my advisory with a few other advisories went to the Shop and Stock food bank in West Harlem. This was one of the best and most rewarding service days I took part in because I could see exactly how my service was helping people in the community. We helped unpack boxes and stock shelves for people, especially senior citizens to get food. I think food banks like this are really good for communities because unlike many other charity programs, they offer a choice to people coming for food. The Shop and Stock food bank creates a miniature “supermarket” for people coming in. There is variety in food and fresh produce, instead of just pre-prepared packages that I’ve seen at many other food banks. Throughout the time we spent there we could all see the way people from the community came to the food bank. We saw how wonderful programs like Shop and Stock really affect people in communities.
While I was in Jordan I went to a habitat for humanity build and helped build the walls of a house. This was my first experience with service that I actually wanted to do, not just like all the other hours I did for the sole purpose of completing the service requirement. Despite the grueling work of construction, seeing the walls grow and watching the construction site begin to resemble a home was extremely satisfying.
This year, starting in November, I interned in the Education Department of the NY Historical Society. Throughout this internship, I gave tours, researched artifacts, and helped prepare public school students for the history portion of this year’s regent exams by tutoring them, giving 1 on 1 tours, and helping host review nights at the museum. My work at the NY Historical Society introduced me to a multitude of amazing students from around the city, as well as offering a really rewarding experience by allowing me to meet and help out students who needed help studying.
This past summer, I interned at the GO Project for five weeks. With its teaching staff comprised of teachers, students (both college and high school), and learning specialists, the GO Project strives to catch students up in school who are falling behind in under-performing public schools, making use of valuable player in summer time as well as Saturdays during the school year. As of now, the GO Project has four locations: Friends, LREI, GCS, Grace Church Elementary, and Avenues. However, this summer, classes only took place at GCS, Grace Church Elementary, and Avenues. While some interns like myself were placed in morning classes, others helped out in afternoon electives such as yoga, rugby, and drama.
In my 4th grade classroom at Grace Church Elementary, I, along with another intern from Bard HS, assisted the Head Teacher, Student Teacher, and Teaching Assistant. We began the day at 8:45 a.m. and met our students in the big gym, where the entirety of the teaching and student body gathered for Harambee, where we sang songs/chants to foster a sense of community despite our separate classrooms and grade-levels. Occasionally, my TA would play songs such as the “Cha Cha Slide,” and students would rush into the center of the gym and get in formation. After Harambee, we went to our classroom and began morning meeting. Usually, we would greet each other and either share something about our day or play a game. We’d work on Math Centers, Math Games, and Reading in the morning. The teachers would split the students up into groups to work on the problem we read aloud on the board, which involved fractions. After working in their notebooks, the Head Teacher would have individual students solve it on the board. As expected, most students preferred Math Games, such as Multiplication Bingo or War. The teachers would facilitate the games and clear up any confusion. Throughout the summer, the GO students worked on mini-essays concerning longer recesses, chocolate milk in schools, and the reduction of homework. We helped them structure the essay and fine tune the intricacies of their argument. I particularly enjoyed one title: “Homework Don’t Be Fresh and Spicy with Me.”
Eventually, we’d break for lunch, and the interns would to Professional Development (PD), where we’d discuss classroom incidents, racism, diversity, equity, and education. I enjoyed having the opportunity to share ideas with other teenagers especially since the topics in question possess no clear solution. Every week, a different group of inters would lead an inter-led presentation. My group was assigned “Making a Difference,” and chose to facilitate a game of jeopardy in which the prize was a container of munchkins from Dunkin’ Donuts.
Our Head Teacher permitted us a lunch break of 30 minutes after PD. When we returned, the students were usually reading an article, essay-writing, or learning about government. They had just come from recess and were either exhausted or energized, making it hard to motivate them to work. Shortly, they would leave the classroom and head off to their afternoon activities at 2:00 p.m., when the day ended for us interns.
I loved my time at the GO Projected and was surprised how quickly these five weeks passed and how much I enjoyed the routine and structure it provided me with. I cherish the unique relationships I formed with the students. One boy kept complaining that the “chicken” took his snack and reprimanded me for being “so fresh and spicy with [him]” every time I told him to do his work. A girl taught me a dance she made for her musical.ly and made a secret handshake with me. Another girl sang “If I Ain’t Got You” at the final show at the end of the summer and cried tears of joy after the audience applauded her. This past summer, I’ve learned to value my education, relationships, privileges, and ability to help others.
The week following the soccer preseason training camp, the Boy’s Varsity team traveled to Tobago, which served as an extremely fulfilling bonding and service experience. It was fantastic to be able to experience Warren and Sherwin’s home. Through 3 exhibition matches, down time, volunteer clinics, and practices everyone really got to know each other. We ran two clinics at our coach’s old high school and at their former soccer academy. Not only did we run clinics and distribute cleats, but we also got to immerse ourselves in the culture. The people we met were incredibly hospitable and it would be lovely to return there. This experience helped me understand the extent of the privilege I experience here at Friends and in my life in general.
Yesterday, I met Claire and a few other Friends Seminary students at the Governors Island ferry on South Street. It was a short ride and we arrived around midday. We met two Earth Matter volunteers at some picnic benches in the center of the organization’s work ground who explained the schedule for the day. They seemed so excited to see us even though we were just a bunch of overtired teenagers getting up earlier than we wanted to on a Saturday morning. Their appreciation was like the cup of coffee I didn’t have time to drink.
My first assignment was to turn over two rows of land to plant collard with two other kids. I was handed a shovel, a rake and some seeds and was frustrated that they thought the three of us would only be able to get through two rows. I could totally do like 10 rows alone, I thought to myself. In order to plant new seeds, you have to dig up all of the old dirt, turn it over and pull out invasive roots (mud weed in this case) and litter. Then you have to rake the dirt up into pyramidal rows to leave a path for walking, pat them down and water them. A row is about three feet wide. Halfway through the first row, I was sweaty, out of breath and exhausted. I was hit with a serious appreciation for the strength, hard work and care that farmers must put into growing the food that I completely take for granted.
I finished my rows and moved on to planting sacks of potatoes. After that, Anna Lee and I were tasked with collecting eggs from several dozen chickens which also proved to be much harder than expected. As it turns out, chickens do not like it when you stick your hand under them. We got squawked at and pecked viciously with every chicken we overturned. Each chicken lays one egg a day, and we knew how many chickens there were, so it was kind of like an easter egg hunt. The colors of the eggs varied beautifully.