For service day, the ninth grade presented their YPI projects to each other in the meeting house and to others who wanted to come and watch. There were 8 groups that made it to the finals out of the sixteen original groups. Each group chose an important social issue that was relevant in the NYC community. Then they had to choose a nonprofit. Everyone advocated for their nonprofits to win, but only one group could win the $5000. My group chose to work with Gigi’s Playhouse, a nonprofit organization that dealt with the issues surrounding Down syndrome, and the common misperceptions of people with Down syndrome. Although my group did not win the grand prize, I learned a lot from this experience. Going into it, I wanted to win the $5000 dollars for Gigi’s Playhouse because If felt bad for the children with Down syndrome and wanted to help the organization. I thought, “It’s so unfair that they already have to suffer so much. Gigi’s deserves that money so they can help them and provide a safe and comfortable environment for them.” But after doing research and visiting Gigi’s, I think my motives for why I wanted to win changed. I always knew that people with Down syndrome were not that different from us. And the more I thought about it, the more I began to wonder: Why should they be treated so differently based on things they were born with, and cannot change? I realized that I, too, was viewing Down syndrome in the wrong way. Instead of feeling bad for people with Down syndrome, I realized how unjust the common misperceptions about them being so different are. I wanted my group to win so we could give the $5000 dollars to Gigi’s to not only improve their programs, but also educate others, showing them that people with Down Syndrome are just like us and don’t deserve to be disrespected and treated as unequal
Here at Friends Seminary, we are accepting of LGBTQ youth, and we don’t know what most LGBTQ students go through because of the fact that our school community is accepting of this. This isn’t the case for most other LGBTQ students, whose schools don’t have a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) or supporting environment. I got to learn more about what LGBTQ students have to go through during my YPI site visit at an organization called GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network). At our site visit, we met Eliza Byard, who is the head of GLSEN’s New York City chapter. One thing that was a bit challenging in this project was finding the statistics, but then Eliza brought up the National School Climate survey, which helped with that a lot. It was definitely rewarding when we presented our slideshow, as it made other people aware of our issue and we were able to bring it to other people’s attentions. I realized how lucky we are at Friends to be in a safe space that is welcoming and accepting. I hope that I and the rest of my group will be able to maintain contact with Eliza.
Prompt: In what ways has your attitude toward your social issue changed over the course of the project?
By participating in the YPI project, as well as getting to work with an amazing non-profit organization, Fountain House, my view on the social issue of mental illness has changed. Before I did this project, I was under educated about what a mental illness is, and I was hesitant when I would walk by a mentally ill person on the street. It definitely was unintended and stigma, but I was part of the community putting stigma on the mentally ill.
Now, I do not feel this way, and I feel badly that I ever was part of the group of people that placed an unfair stigma on the mentally ill. From researching mental illness and getting the opportunity to see Fountain House firsthand and witnessing how much their members love it and see how they are all so tightly connected with such support and love for one another, and how within the walls of Fountain House, there is absolutely no stigma, I learned more about mental illness. I learned that a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. I realized that people living with a mental illness are not a danger to society whatsoever, but they enhance our society. By doing this project, I realized that the stigma we put on the mentally ill is the most significant problem, and that we should by no means discriminate against the mentally ill. We should not place them in a different part of society, forcing isolation upon them and not allowing them to be part of a working society; instead we should encourage and support the mentally ill, and help educate people about mental illness to make an effort to de-stigmatize mental illness.
In the online activities or “modules” that I completed prior to the Spanish Emersion Peru Trip, I learned about Peruvian history and culture. One of the principles of Leave No Trace, which was discussed frequently on the trip was “Know Before You Go.” Knowing before you go means studying up on the destination, and at least having a basic understanding of the country’s politics, history, and traditions. To me, this step is one that cannot be overlooked. As a tourist, I often feel like I am disrupting the locals by being an onlooker to their daily lives. However, with prior knowledge of a destination, a tourist can be more culturally sensitive and aware, which I believe is crucial in order to avoid being the “obnoxious American tourist.”
Traveling to Peru with a sense of the country enabled me to have a better understanding while on tours, visiting attractions, and during discussions with my host family. I don’t believe I would have gotten as much out of the trip if it wasn’t for the information I gathered at home in New York.
Before coming to Friends this year, I went to school at De La Salle Academy where there were great faculty members, as well as an optimistic environment. From day one, we always heard that we were one big family. Community was a large part of the culture at De la Salle, and everyone always helped everyone else. During the summer, De la Salle had to move from their home at 96th St and Amsterdam to a new, much bigger building at 43rd Street near Times Square. Some people came to help out; including parents and students who had graduated from the school a long time ago. I went to volunteer five days during the summer to help move all the things from the current building to the new building. Me, my friends and on some days my Dad carried heavy boxes of books, furniture and other items up and down many flights of stairs. I also helped clear out all the trash at the new building and we filled up a whole dumpster by the end of the day. I really enjoyed volunteering at De la Salle Academy and am very glad I helped.
Over the summer, I volunteered at an organization called YAI. YAI is an organization of physical therapists, speech therapists, and social workers who help children and their families with different types of special needs. At my time at YAI, I was able to help make games for the children who go there for treatment, help with data entry, and help mail and prepare flyers with information for children’s families. I also had the chance to talk to a child having surgery who was upset, and I had to talk him through it in order to make him more comfortable and prepared.
Volunteering at YAI was a very rewarding experience because I got the chance to work with inspiring role models who devote their lives to helping others, as well as help children in anyway I could. My time at YAI opened my eyes to different types of people and their needs. Volunteering made me want to become a better person, and help other.