At the beginning of the summer I was invited to participate in a Robin Hood Fellowship. This program lasted for a week and focused on fighting poverty. On one of the days we went to an early childhood center in Staten Island, GABI (Group Attachment Based Intervention), and got to interact with kids and mothers there. Before we traveled to Staten Island, we heard a presentation on why early childhood development is so important for providing children with the tools to become successful adults. This center helps equip struggling parents with the support to raise their children in a way that is beneficial to their kids, but also to them. On the last day we did a presentation on one of the places we had visited during the week, and I got to present on the importance of early childhood development and the work GABI does.
On another day, we met the president of the Center for Urban Community Services and visited one of their residential buildings in the Bronx. The Center offers “supportive housing,” which gives people housing after they have been homeless, in the hospital, or in other difficult circumstances. We met with a few people who live there, and they all said how much of a positive impact this affordable housing has had on their lives. The Center provides not only housing, but also a range of activities, such as therapy and job training.
On the last day we visited Housing Works, where we learned about safe injection sites and harm reduction, both of which are intended to limit drug overdoses. At this site we saw a presentation and interacted with people use the health care programs at Housing Works. This experience helped me to understand how different people’s lives can be. It also showed me that life is such a lottery, because we can’t control what circumstances we’re born into.
This summer I volunteered at Camp Robin Hood, a program that helps fight poverty by supporting over 200 organizations. At camp we visited four of these organizations, including the FDNY job-training academy, the Association to Benefit Children (ABC), a soup kitchen and KIPP, a charter school in Washington Heights. At the FDNY job-training academy we learned CPR, experienced a simulation of what it would be like to drive an ambulance and did drills with real hoses. When we visited ABC and Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Center for Babies, Toddlers & Families, each of us got the chance to take care of one or two children during a trip to the Bronx Zoo. Before we went to the soup kitchen, we were split into groups of two and were given 30 dollars each to create a healthy set of meals that would last a family a whole week. After we completed this challenge we brought the food we had purchased to the soup kitchen and made sandwiches for people in need. When we visited KIPP, we were split into groups of three and assigned to a classroom to play with the children there.
My experiences at Camp Robin Hood reinforced how difficult it would be to be a child growing up below the poverty line. Part of ABC’s mission is to disrupt the cycle of poverty both by providing childcare and education for children growing up in poverty. When we were able to interact with the families and staff at Albert Einstein, I saw that they were trying everything possible to provide the best for their children. Because some of the parents were dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues, the staff provided extra support for the children and the parents. At the end of the week the other volunteers and I had a debate: if we could only fund one of the four organizations which would we choose? Almost every volunteer voted for education and early childhood. We believed that the most likely way to break the cycle of poverty would be to focus on the children.