Earlier this year I spent a night in Albany with an organization called NFTY-NAR. NFTY is the reform Jewish youth movement in North America. NFTY-NAR is the New York Area Region of NFTY. As an organization it is teen powered and teen run and upholds the value of tikkun olam (repairing the world). As such, every year we run an event called Albany Advocacy Day, in which we spend a night learning about different social justice issues with relevant pending legislation. Then the next day we meet with state legislators about one issue we feel passionate about.
This year I chose to talk about economic inequality and the minimum wage. I encounter economic inequality every day when I walk past homeless people on the street. It is a tragedy and raising the minimum wage is a good first step to alleviating the situation. My group of 4 wrote a speech and presented it to Sen. Liz Kreuger, who is the senator from my district, and congressman Dan Squadron, who is the congressman from the district that includes Friends and parts of Brooklyn. Even though both already support raising the minimum wage it was a powerful experience to meet with the people that directly represent me in government.
When John, my AP physics teacher, approached me and informed me that he had selected me to lead freshman physics review, I was honored. I love physics and had been a peer tutor before; teaching and helping younger kids was something that I enjoyed. Little did I know that leading physics review meant seemingly endless disappointment. Some days, no one even showed up. Other days kids came but were reluctant to ask for help and I would hover over them whispering equations and laws when they were slow to remember them. But when kids came wanting help, Nick MarCus and I would talk through anything they needed. The amusing part was that AP physics and freshman physics have surprisingly parallel curriculums, so a lot of the time we would teach them as we were struggling to understand the same topics. Helping the kids understand something I am so passionate about was such a rewarding feeling.
Since my time in Lower School at Friends, I have always heard about the annual Lunar New Years event. However, it wasn’t until this year, my last year at Friends, that I was finally able to go. I was really excited when I heard about the opportunity to volunteer.
22 years ago, Henry Lee, the first Asian American to graduate from Friends, was honored by his family with a named scholarship. Proceeds from the Chinese New Year Celebration benefit the Henry Lee ’43 Scholarship Fund and the Boji ’92 and Richard ’98 Wong Family Chinatown Scholarship.
At the event, I worked selling small trinkets and other items to lowerschoolers and their families. All of the proceeds went to the aforementioned scholarship funds. I had fun selling the items, not only because I knew the proceeds went to such a great cause, but also because I had the opportunity to interact with the lowerschoolers who were attending the event. It was amazing to see the lowerschoolers so excited to learn about Chinese culture and heritage. My favorite part of the night was when I helped spread bubble rap on the floor so that the lower schoolers could jump on it, a Friends Seminary substitute for firecrackers. If you want free Chinese food and the opportunity to give back to the present and future Friends community, the Lunar New Year celebration is the place to be!
Me, Olivia B-W, Altana, and Penny volunteered to do the HOPE survey. On February 8th we arrived at the HOPE headquarters in a public school cafeteria on 10th street. Each group of volunteers is given a route in Manhattan that covers a small area. Any homeless people we encountered we were supposed to ask them certain questions in a particular order and record it for the city’s database. My group’s survey-area was a residential area of Greenwich Village. We walked around the area with Ben Frisch systematically following the route given to us by the HOPE staff. Surprisingly, we did not find any homeless people to survey in on our route. Although we did not interact with homeless people, the data we collected was still valuable to the organization. All areas, including residential areas with non-existent homeless populations, need to be surveyed to get an accurate picture of Manhattan’s homeless demographics. It was great to be able to help and learn about such an influential organization that operates in the same location as our school and community. Afterwards we got pizza at Joe’s. Here is me and Altana.
Reading Partners is a national nonprofit organization that partners with under-resourced schools to work with students who are 6 months or more behind grade level in reading. I started working with Reading Partners 3 months ago at PS 305 at 344 Monroe St, Brooklyn in Bedford Stuyvesant with a first grade girl named Angelique. When I began lessons with her she was a beginner reader, she barely new the sounds every letter of the alphabet made and after just a few one-on-one lessons for an hour she was fluently reading beginner books making it obvious to me that she was a very bright and capable student who just needed some attention that it was impossible for her to get in her class of 30.
For so many of the students in this school, who are repeating grades for the 3rd time or way behind in their reading level, it isn’t because they aren’t bright, it is because their schools are under-funded and can’t provide the services and programs to support individualized instruction. Their classes are overcrowded making it impossible for teachers to provide each student with the personalized attention they may need. Public schools get funding from the city and the city takes those funds from property taxes, thus schools in poor neighborhoods are at quite a disadvantage even though those are the schools that should be getting more resources to combat the disadvantage they’re already at the students coming from lower income families. This experience has left me with a lot of questions. I want to learn more about educational equity.
Working with Reading Partners was an invaluable experience because reading is the basis of all learning and learning is the key to success in future endeavors. I enjoyed working with Angelique and watching her go from being a beginner reader to successfully reading small chapter books and sounding out larger words with no problem. I was surprised that within just a month and a 1/2 we were able to see huge gains in her reading level. This was such a rewarding and amazing experience. Reading Partners is an awesome organization and I encourage everyone to check it out and get involved.
This year I helped out at the middle school event, Friends After Dark. For those of you who don’t know, Friends After Dark is a sort of party for 5th graders where they get to dance, eat pizza, watch movies, and play video games. I didn’t go to Friends for middle school so I was unfamiliar with all of the middle school faculty. However, they were all very friendly and supportive when I was trying to control the kids. Most of the kids who were in the dance room, where I was told to DJ, were completely crazy. They were all so passionate about what song should play next that they swarmed around me so tightly that I couldn’t see and screamed so loudly that my ears rang even after I left.
I didn’t really enjoy doing this service. It was probably not worth the 2-3 hours of service I got for it. However, afterwards I felt more connected to the friends community because I was exposed to so people I had never interacted with.
This year I cooked for the Friends Shelter a few times when they needed volunteers to bring in food. The Friends Shelter is operated by the 15th Street Meetinghouse and houses fourteen homeless people every night. Homelessness is a major issue in New York City, with over 60,000 homeless people in shelters throughout the city. Although the Friends Shelter is small, it helps as much as it can. On school days the shelter receives meals from the Friends Seminary kitchen. However, on weekends, on holidays, and during the summer, the the Friends Seminary kitchen is not open, so the shelter relies on both volunteers to bring in food and donations so that they can buy food when needed. This year I made meals a few times over winter and spring break, as I have been for the past few years. Making the meals was a great experience for me because I knew I was helping the shelter in a meaningful way, and it was connected to the Friends community. I plan on doing it again next year and recommend others to bring in meals as well.
Earlier this year there was a week that I knew would not have as much homework. Since I knew I would have extra time, that Monday I decided to work at the HUC-JIR soup kitchen. The soup kitchen is run every Monday by the rabbinic and cantorial students at HUC. They also collect new and gently used clothing items during the week. At the soup kitchen those items are out for anyone who needs, no questions asked. I was working as a server for most of the time. As a server I went around to the tables with plates of hot food or bagged meals and offered them to the customers. As I walked around some of the customers told me stories or about their situation. No one I spoke to had done anything to put themselves in a bad situation. All of them were laid off from budget cuts or or other economic repercussions. Working with people like them is very important because they did nothing wrong to get them into that situation. They are normal people like anyone else, but they sometimes need a little help. Many are forced to live in substandard conditions or even on the street. People like that are not always treated with the same respect as they should. At soup kitchens like this one the customers are treated with the respect they deserve as human beings.
On a Wednesday afternoon in Studio 3, Jack Lanzi sat proudly in a smock with a box of fired ceramic bowls in front of him on the table. There were two other students already in the room glazing the bowls and having a conversation about hunger almost as vibrant as the empty bowls would be after their second firing. I was greeted and given a selection of glazes, paintbrushes and bowls made by the dedicated participants of Empty Bowls throughout the year. I quickly became engaged in the conversation; Jack told me all sorts of statistics about hunger in New York and I was shocked at what I heard. The more I learned, the more happy I was to be contributing to such an important cause. These bowls would be sold in an ice cream event to help raise money for hungry new yorkers. I was honored to be participating.