With hunger being one of the most prevalent issues our nation and world must face today, I have become very interested in finding ways to help bring food to those unable to get the resources others are fortunate enough to afford. I became especially inspired by a PSA on the PATH train which said that the number of homeless children in NYC has increased by the thousands over the past several years and that some records should be fixed, not broken. With this in mind, I went to the Hoboken Homeless Shelter to see how I could help. Last year, I helped cook, serve, and clean up dinner for a large group of homeless people. Everyone I worked with was so inspiring and selfless and made me want to continue supporting my local shelter. Doing any type of service is rewarding, but helping my own community and being able to work with such an amazing group of employees and volunteers made this experience especially gratifying. I definitely plan on continuing my volunteer work with the shelter and hope to also get involved with City Harvest, an organization that helps redistribute food, eliminating much of the food waste in our city.
Over the summer, I interned at an organization called Writopia Lab. Writopia Lab is a space for kids and teens to work on creative writing with instructors, and to further their writing skills. As an intern, I helped out in workshops with kids ages 7-11. I helped them type up their stories if they weren’t comfortable enough typing, and I gave them feedback and helped them to foster their creativity.
Over my two weeks, I personally worked with about four kids, in workshops with about seven to eight kids each. The first week I assisted a girl named Nicole and a boy named Dasher. They each started off the week a little bit shaky. Nicole would write something very short and then get distracted, and Dasher only wanted to write about a video game. However, by the end of the week, Nicole was able to put her wild imagination to use by creating an entire world in which she wrote a story. Likewise, Dasher was able to use his love of character to create a new story that he created all on his own.
The second week was a little bit different, because the kids were younger, so I focused more on helping them learn how to begin and write extremely short stories, and I helped each of them type. I specifically helped a young girl named Ruwayda. By the end of the week, she had about five short stories that were about half a page each.
I really appreciated the time I had helping young kids to develop their writing skills. They remind me why I myself have a passion for writing, and they show me just how new and exciting it can be. I’ve interned with Writopia in the past, and I’ve gone to them as a student for many years. In the future, I hope to be able to intern at Writopia again.
Toward’s the beginning of this year I, alongside three other students, visited a Sanctuary for Families location through our club at Friends called Kids Helping Kids. Sanctuary for Families is an organization that works to help children and their families that have been sexually and physically abused, overcome their personal and economic struggles. This was the first year Kids Helping Kids and the Friends Community has been partnered with Sanctuary for Families, and this was my first visit to one of their locations. When we first arrived we were welcomed by two of the directors of Sanctuary for Families and introduced to some other volunteers. We were then asked to assort and arrange different catered food so it was available for the kids and their family upon this arrival. Throughout the night we served food and drinks to the children and kept the older ones occupied while the younger kids watched a production of Peter Pan. I listened to these kids stories and heard about their plans for the future, their schooling and the classic middle school boy drama. At the end of the night I was rewarded with newly formed friendships and an amazing learning experience. Being raised in a middle class family and having the opportunity to go to such a prestigious private school like Friends, I have the unfortunate misperception that my life is perfectly mapped out for me. Having the opportunity to watch these kids and listen to their stories I came to the understanding that life isn’t something to be taken for granted. I’ve lived my life adjusted to a certain standard of living, without much recognition of how other people live. It was eyeopening and very rewarding being able to work with victims of abuse, and gain a better understanding of domestic violence and its impact. Although I am privileged to be in the position I am in life, it’s important for me to recognize those that are less fortunate to grow up in a fully functioning and supportive household such as mine. I’m grateful to my volunteer experience with Sanctuary for Families for helping me do just that.
This year, I was really lucky to be able to participate in the Day of Concern. I’ve never really been a part of a day that was like this, having only been at Friends since last year and never encountering anything similar at my old school. I was really impressed with the different types of people that spoke to me and to my classmates. Each of them had their own unique and important topic, and when combined, everything fit together pretty much perfectly.
The first workshop I went to was hosted by a holocaust surviver. She spoke about her experiences as a child, and how she was separated from much of her family. The fact that she was there in person really made her story come alive, and even though I’ve studied the holocaust at other points in my education, I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to hear a story that felt so real. She was just like any other person I might see on the street, or around the school, and that was a perspective that I’ve never heard the holocaust story told from.
The second workshop I went to was a poetry workshop. We were able to read some poems and then used them as inspirations for our own writing. At the end of the session, the instructor recited his own spoken-word poem. He was really talented, and I absolutely loved it. What he really tried to broadcast was how poetry could be used as a way to get people to think about social change, and I could definitely see how listening to a poem like that could inspire anyone, including myself, to want to make a difference.
The third workshop was about transgender issues. The man leading the workshop told us about his life, and what it’s like to be transgender in today’s world. Even though it’s definitely difficult, his story gave me hope that it really is possible for things to change and get better. As a member of the GSA, I hear about atrocities that trans people experience often, but we don’t pay as much attention to success stories. His story showed me that, even though we still have so much work to do, there are many transgender people who are able to live long, happy lives.
I really appreciated being a part of the Day of Concern. The three workshops I went to melded together almost seamlessly: I learned about the holocaust, an issue from the past; what it’s like to be transgender, a social concern in the present; and about poetry, a method to encourage and change the way people think. I hope that the Day of Concern will happen again next year, and I look forward to learning even more about social justice and other, varying issues.
This year, I thought I wanted to do some out of school service that not only impacted others but those that I love. My grandpa, Herb Herbst, just turned 90-years-old and has been running the JSAC for 20+ years. He still goes up and paints the ceilings, but not at the quick pace with which he used to do it.
I worked rejuvenating the JSAC Store as well as daily tasks that needed to be done. I helped the tenants who were mostly dancers, singers, artists, restorers, etc. I’d worked with my grandpa at the arts center during their shows (plays, performances, music festivals, art exhibitions), but had never really worked continuously on a project there. Finishing the JSAC Store which sells local artwork and such, was very rewarding.
Over spring break, a Friends group went to Peru. Envoys, an organization that empowers students through travel, took this group of city kids to a part of the world that, until then, had only lived on the fringes of their perspectives. I was lucky enough to be one of those city kids, and through the trip to Peru I learned the difference between seeing a country and living it. We stayed with host families, speaking only Spanish, learned from the completely sustainable people of the Uros Islands, and explored ancient Incan ruins. From a silent meeting in Machu Picchu, we watched the fog swirl around the peaks of the Andes and we awoke at 6 am to the sound of ghoulish howler monkeys in the Amazon Rainforest. We did so much that coming back to our busy student lives at Friends seemed dull.
Throughout the trip, we were led by a task force of professors and Envoys counselors who worked tirelessly to make every minute of the adventure an experience in and of itself. Our trip leader, Ángela Gomez, was an enthusiastic character who seemed to have everything planned out, down to the minute of our arrival at our host homes. “Flaco”, our medic, was a ukelele-playing, song-singing, happy-go-lucky Columbian who looked after each one of us, even staying by the side of a few group members for two straight days while they recovered from a virus in a hospital. Ahava Silkey-Jones, a third Envoys member, was smart, collected, extremely helpful, and very attentive; it was her first time in Peru, and yet she made us feel secure and at home there. Señor Quiñones and Micah were our Friends Seminary adult representatives, proving to be extremely caring and capable in their abilities both as our guardians in Peru and as our friends—they were our attachment to home. With the help of these leaders, our group became a family.
In this trip I found a stark contrast between visiting and traveling. At the start of the trip, I made it my goal to avoid seeing the country through the lens both of my camera and of my life as a New York private school student. By planting trees for a Peruvian farmer, the fruit of which he will sell to send his daughter to school, I achieved that goal. I achieved that goal again and again, in my homestay, in seeing huge swaths of brown among seas of green rainforest from the plane, in our brilliant tour guides, and in asking my waiter at a restaurant his name, where he was from, and what his dreams were beyond working at a hotel in Cuzco. I achieved that goal when I realized that to be a person, you need to travel and learn about the world you live in.
This past summer I spent the beginning of August at my house in the northern Catskills. For as long as we have had a house there we have been supporting a place called Heather Ridge Farm (http://heather-ridge-farm.com/) that raises free-range animals, produces honey from bees, and serves lunch on the weekends. This summer was the first time I was able to help out the owner of the farm, an extraordinary woman named Carol Clements. Carol raises sheep, goats, chickens, cows, geese, turkey, and lamas. The farm is run year long by herself, her husband, and two interns who are preparing to own their owns farms one day. From day I arrived to the day I said goodbye, I was put to work feeding the chickens and pigs, herding the goats and sheep, bottle feeding lambs, giving shots and vitamins to baby goats, packing sheep into trucks to be driven to the slaughter house, setting up field fencing, gathering the chickens’ eggs, painting chairs for a fundraising dinner, and pulling weeds in the flower and vegetable gardens. There was never a time while it was still light out when anybody on the farm didn’t have a duty. The interns who worked there were very kind to have accepted me as fifteen year old city girl who never worked on a farm in a day in her life. They taught me a lot about the animals and plants we were taking care of and how such a farm operates. Not only did the experience introduce me to new smells and methods of agriculture but it also made me realize the strong dependency that the animals had on us and how dependent we were on them.
Over the Summer, I attended a camp called “Summerdance”. This dance camp is a part of my dance company, The Vanaver Caravan. During the first two weeks, the dancers work on various techniques of world dance, such as Percussion, Capoeira, and many more. The final week, however, the dancers go on tour to various venues in the area. Three of these venues were: Woodland Pond Retirement Home, The Ellenville Center for Spectrum Services (a school for special needs toddlers), and Camp Felix, a wilderness camp in upstate New York for inner-city kids.
Performing for all of these communities was incredibly rewarding. After each performance, we had the privelige of teaching simple dances to the audience. It was so exciting to see the faces of the kids, teenagers, and elderly light up with excitement at the prospect of learning a new dance form and get moving. Furthermore, through talking to our audience, I feel that I learned a lot about the what, specifically in our shows, worked and what lost their attention a bit. Although performing in and of itself feels so rewarding, thinking back on those few performances really makes the sometimes tedious rehearsals worth it.
The social issue that I chose to research was early education for children from families under or near the poverty line. The non profit that my group and I visited was the Children’s Aid Society. They have many programs but we chose to focus on their early education programs. Before we researched the project I did not fully understand how serious the lack of early education was for these children. I did not think about how this issue tied into many other issues in society today. Early education greatly affects a child’s future and New York City in general. I also saw how important the education in the first five years of a child’s life, and their brain goes through the most growth in this time. I learned that without the proper education children are more likely to commit crimes in the future, fall back into poverty, and other things that affect their lives and the community.
There are many ways I could stay connected with the Children’s Aid Society. Even though most of the early education program is made up of paid teachers and social workers there are still many volunteers. I could volunteer to help the teachers in the classrooms that they have in the target neighborhoods. I could also help look after the kids while they are playing in the classrooms or during their lunch times. I could also help without physically going to their classroom locations. I could donate materials that I have from when I was younger, like toys, children’s books and other things that they need in their classrooms or help raise money for the organization. Other classmates and I could organize a book drive or toy drive to gather the materials and donate them to the Children’s Aid Society.
May 8th, 2014
One thing about Friends Seminary that distinguishes us as a community from other schools throughout New York City is the emphasis that is placed on service and it’s importance. In the past, especially considering the elementary school I attended, there was never much stress on performing charitable or service affiliated acts. However, starting at Friends I was taken out of the bubble surrounding me, and it was brought to my attention the numerous social issues that affect our society daily. Just recently, the ninth grade, on service day, created presentations on charities that focused on a specific social issue present in modern day NYC. The social issues ranged from child homelessness to immigration laws, child illiteracy, and even sex trafficking. Now, what was so shocking and what stood out to me the most, was the statistics provided to those watching the presentations. Each group that presented also covered a different organization, ranging from “Reading Partners”, “GEMS” “Hot Bread Kitchen”, to “ABC”. My group, unfortunately, was not given the opportunity to present our social issue on child abuse. However, I think being able to watch each presentation gave me a new perspective on the state New York City really is in, as well as the most effective way to present these issues. Ultimately, with the majority vote, the GEMS organization won. Without a doubt, GEMS stuck with me, because not only was their topic on sex trafficking such a horrible subject, but also the way it was so thoroughly and effectively presented. This presentation gave me surprising insight as to how big of an issue sex trafficking truly is in New York City. With this newfound knowledge on all the nonprofits presented, I was able to change my conception of local charities, and how in depth and truly effective they are in changing the lives of the thousands of victims they work with. The wide array of social issues also allowed my view on the NYC community to expand, and therefore further my will to continue philanthropic working, as well as educating others and myself on the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative. Through YPI, my fellow group members and I were handed the lovely opportunity to work with and research an influential nonprofit called The Jane Barker Foundation. The Jane Barker Foundation addresses the very prominent issue of child abuse. Researching “Jane Barker”, I found surprising and almost unbelievable statistics on the amount of children affected by child abuse each day, the amount of children under the age of 13 that “Jane Barker” has helped, as well as the cause and effects of domestic and child targeted violence. And while I was unable to go with my group to visit our site, I still feel a particular connection towards my organization and the social issue they focus on; therefore I am hoping to use our connection with YPI and “Jane Barker” to my advantage, and continue my philanthropic work throughout my high school experience. The sort of incorporation and affiliations Friends Seminary and their students are benefitted with, are an essential part in bettering our community in and out of school. The Friends goal by incorporating service as a common part of life, meeting the required service hours as well as attending the many assemblies, provides a very friendly and helpful environment that I value. This particular experience, it being the first service day I ever participated in, gave me insight on social issues and the service needed to be done to improve and better our society, as well as overall achieve Friends Seminary’s ultimate goal.