While the main focus of the globa ed trip to Morocco was intercultural exchange, there were definitely opportunities for service offered during the trip as well. For instance, while we were staying in our homestays in Rabat, we spent a day working with young volunteers at a soup kitchen in the nearby town of Sella. Speaking Arabic and French, we worked with them to discover the cultural differences between American and Moroccan dynamics in the home and in public spaces as well. It was fascinating to hear the perspectives of Moroccan youths as they approached service to their local communities. All of the volunteers we worked with were artists, so I was particularly interested in discovering how they applied their artistic talents to their work at the soup kitchen. Another service activity we experienced in Morocco was in a small town in the Atlas Mountains, working with a women’s cooperative that specialized in providing their community with couscous, a staple of the Moroccan diet. With the oversight of these pioneering women, we got to learn to make couscous and provide the community with a bit more of the food.
Over the past few years, I have spent my time interning at Writopia Lab, an organization that creates writing workshops for kids ages 5-18. I have been in workshops myself since I was about nine years old, and once I turned 15, I began to intern there over the summer. For my senior year in high school, I interned every Tuesday afternoon in workshops with children under 12 years old to help them type, formulate stories, and edit their work.
Throughout the year, I have worked with various different workshops. The first workshop I worked with was particularly difficult, and I’m very glad that I was able to be there to assist the instructor and make sure everything was running as smoothly as it could. After that workshop, I switched around quite a lot, and have worked with a range of very young kids who can hardly type for themselves to kids who I have sat down and edited serious pieces with. Recently, I have been working with kids in second and third grade, and have helped one girl work on a long story about mermaids, and one boy on a few serial stories he’s decided to write about an adventurer. I am proud to see that, since I’ve started working with them, they have gotten much more excited about their pieces and have been increasing in technical skill very quickly.
I am so lucky to have found Writopia Lab. The hours I’ve spent there, working on short stories, poetry, and plays have made me who I am today. Writopia is a community of diverse, talented people who value the art form just as much as I do, and I’m so glad that I’ve had the opportunity to help them during my time in high school. Furthermore, the children I’ve worked with have inspired me as well, reminding me what it means to be a writer and how exciting it can be to embark on a new story.
The Ethnic NY project provided an interesting and new perspective on the neighborhood in which I’ve lived most my life. Through the interview process, I gained much insight into the neighborhood’s present and past. The history I’ve uncovered has been intriguing and eye-opening and has caused me to further appreciate the current neighborhood in which I live.
Over this past summer, I worked as a counselor-in-training at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture Farm Camp. It was a four week program that entailed one week of training and three weeks of hands-on work with young kids. Stone Barns Center is nonprofit farm which practices and promotes sustainable agriculture. Throughout my time on the farm, I worked with 8 and 9 year olds, helping them develop farming, cooking, and collaboration skills, while advancing my own leadership abilities and farming literacy. We got to spend all day outside, shadowing different employees, from the greenhouse, to the field, to the compost station. Because Stone Barns Center is attached to the renowned Blue Hill Restaurant, we also got to learn from the chefs about their daily routines and what it takes to truly be a farm to table restaurant. The overall experience of working on the farm was wonderful. Because there was a good, even mixture of learning with other high school students my age and teaching our knowledge to younger kids, everyday was exciting. If you love the outdoors, are interested in sustainable agriculture, or love working with children, I highly recommend the counselor-in-training program at the Stone Barns Center upstate.
(Pictured is the main field at the Stone Barns Center and the restaurant Blue Hill which lies in the middle of the farm.)
This summer (& continuing into the school year), I started a grant-funded program with four other local professional organizers. I’ve worked in a paid position as a professional organizer for homes and businesses; A good portion of the work I get to do is with hoarders.
Hoarding disorders are a sub-category of OCD (even though there are some people who think of it as a separate disorder). Hoarders suffer from the intense inability to throw anything away. For example, Syllogomania is a form of hoarding in which the hoarder collects (“hoards”) trash– empty bottles, feces, empty food containers, etc. The most common & effective treatment for hoarders is a combination of professional organizers, social workers, and other professionals (contractors, fumigators, exterminators); however, this treatment can be costly with organizer/social workers duos going conservatively for $300/hour. Most of the time, clearing out a hoarder’s house can include many services & professional– exterminators, fumigators, designers, contractors, etc. So, for those who can’t afford that sky-high pricing, the treatment is delayed until funds are sufficient or, in some cases, put off indefinitely.
I saw this affordability issue and, with the help of some of my colleagues, am in the development process of furthering this program. Currently, we are in the alpha phase which consists of forty homes that were already on the waitlist for regular treatment. In all 40 homes, the occupant (hoarder) had an annual income of less than $30,000 or could prove that their essential expenses (rent, electricity, etc) takes up more than 85% of their weekly/monthly paycheck.
I’ve had an eye-opening experience starting this program and have learned so much about the grant application process and how to navigate the legalities of a non-profit. I can’t wait until this program is fully launched and available to all our intended areas of reach (NYC + parts of NJ).
This year in Stefan Stawnychy’s politics class, we have talked extensively about the election. We have compared the two major party candidates, discussing both their differences and similarities. However, after discovering how difficult it is to not only navigate the two candidates websites, but also to find unbiased information about their policies, Stefan decided to create a website outlining side-by-side, non-partisan comparisons of where the two stand on major issues. In the hopes of making it easier for students throughout the Friends community to stay informed about the candidates and the election, we have designed such a website. Lily Weisberg and I worked specifically on the immigration page. We hope this design informs students about important policy stances from both candidates and makes it easier to see the similarities and differences between the two.
This spring was my third participation with the annual Dancers Responding to Aids performance at Friends. I don’t consider myself to be a very good or even remotely trained dancer, but I was encouraged by one of the choreographers and my friend to join one of the dances. I think the true philanthropic nature of the event can potentially be overlooked when engrossed in the beauty of the dances and talent of the dancers. While training and rehearsing for the performance, I was so bogged down by the stress of wanting to do a good job that I managed to forget the primary final goal and end product of such an incredibly successful and moving event such as DRA. The nature of DRA is one that isn’t often found in other schools, and contributes greatly to the uniqueness and singularity of the Friends institution, most specifically the performing arts/dance departments. It wasn’t until the night of the performance that I had pieced together the joy and pleasure of preparing for the show and then performing alongside such incredibly talented people for such an incredibly thoughtful cause. The DRA event at Friends is the perfect harmony of enjoyment, reward and service, making it the pinnacle of successful philanthropy in the Friends community.
Over spring break, I joined the Friends service learning trip to South Africa. We spent a majority of our time there studying the country’s history of racial oppression in the form of the Apartheid system and the system’s lasting effects.
Our second day in the country began with an aerial view of Cape Town from Table Mountain. After our descent, our tour guide launched us into our educational journey about South African racism. He described to us how the Apartheid government divided the city of Cape Town into sections based on race, forcibly moving people into their designated neighborhoods. Within an hour, we found ourselves in the District 6 museum, a museum that displayed the rich culture of a black-designated section that ultimately added much to the anti-Apartheid movement. We spend the rest of our day in Langa, the township closest to Cape Town city proper. Townships are city subdivisions established during Apartheid and are plagued with high rates of unemployment and drug abuse. They are also overwhelmingly black, hardly a coincidence in a society still grappling with the effects of Apartheid. We toured Langa and finished our day at Mzansi a family-run restaurant. At Mzansi we were served delicious food, provided with musical entertainment, and told the story of how the host founded the township restaurant on the dream of her late mother.
The rest of our trip was similarly packed with eye-opening natural wonders, cultural adventures, and engaging conversation about South African racial history. We lived in a township for 5 days in Port Elizabeth, learning from a community group of “Mamas” who were our hosts. We studied two methods of sustainable development via the Ubuntu Education Fund and the Calabash Trust. We even celebrated Easter with a methodist church, going with them to peoples’ homes and witnessing how the church supported community members in need.
I am exceedingly grateful for this trip. It has forced me to take a deeper look into the way I perceive myself as a white American man of relatively high socioeconomic status. I now feel that it is my duty to help my own community understand how it fits into a society of institutionalized racism.
For the second week of spring break, I volunteered at a public elementary school in suburban New Jersey. Throughout the week, I worked with a third grade class of 16 students. I helped the teacher organize her classroom, sorting books and folding bulletin boarders. I taught several lesson such as three-dimensional shape concept and drawing as well as language arts. I created art projects, teaching them how to make books, about identity and diversity, and acrostic poetry. During down time, I re-decorated five bulletin boards with student artwork and re-printed and laminated signs and magnets. I also helped grade quizzes and check spelling.
I possibly want to go into education when I’m older so working with kids so consistently was really rewarding. It taught me about the patience, creativity, and humor required to work with this age group. This experience helped me figure out that if I were to become an elementary school teacher when I’m older, I would either want to teach third or fourth grade because the kids are still young but are beginning to develop into their own people. I strongly recommend working in a classroom if possible, even if you are not interested in teaching. It is a very rewarding experience and will definitely tire you out if you’re looking for something to do!
Since November, I have been an active member of the Be My Eyes community. Be My Eyes is an app that allows blind people to call a sighted member to assist them in tasks. Even though it is time-consuming at times, there is definitely a bond that is created over time. I have been helping one woman consistently throughout my time in the community. Nina is 25 and was blinded later in life, so adjustment was difficult. This app has given her a shoulder to lean on if she needs any help and connect her with people who care about her well-being. The app has allowed me to help Nina with any tasks she needs and, through this assistance, I gained a friend. Through getting to know her story, I have also learned many things to do when assisting someone who is blind– Here are some things, although comedic, that I’ve been told…
1. “When you say “over there” when I ask you for directions, how on earth am I supposed to see where you’re pointing?”
2. “Why are you speaking so loud? I am blind, not deaf.”
3.” Saying “see you later!” is fine, I’m not going to freak out if you use a common expression!”
4. “Also, if you need to leave the room, make me aware of that because I’d rather not talk to myself unknowingly until you return!”
Now, I can’t say that these things are universally true, but for those that I’ve helped, it seemed to be a common theme.
I encourage all of you to sign up for the Be My Eyes app. You might not get to help many people at first, but eventually you’ll become an active member of the Be My Eyes community.