This year the ninth grade participated in the Youth Project Initiative in history class. The project is for young students to research a social issue and find a non-profit organization that they would like to support. It would be a competition between the groups in the grade for a chance at one of three grants that would go towards their organization. On service day, eight of 16 groups would present in front of a panel of judges as well as the entire grade in hopes of winning a grant.
For our YPI project, my group chose to support suicide prevention for our social issue and our organization was The Samaritans of NYC. They’re mission was to help prevent suicide in New York through a hotline that was available 24/7. Through this project our team had to make a website and a presentation to introduce others to our topic and make them more aware of the issue at hand. Over the course of this project we have all worked together to try and use the best of our abilities. Unfortunately, we did not make it to the finals to present our presentation in front of the judges or the grade. However, we did get to see other people present their projects and show off all of their hard work. This service day was truly memorable, because the entire grade participated even if they didn’t get to present, as some people were judges and everyone was given the opportunity to vote.
This project was somewhat challenging as we couldn’t really connect with our group on any deep personal levels. Also, we didn’t have any statistics or special facts or experiences about our organization as everything was anonymous or confidential. That made it difficult to feel a connection to our organization or those who are helped or have come to the organization searching for help. Our group had to have our site visit in the library at school because or organization’s location is private. Another challenging aspect of the project was that these organizations that we’re all working with are very busy, which made it very hard to schedule. Although, this project did help me develop my patience and a better understanding of the outside world and just how big it is. Overall I loved working on this project as it really opened my eyes!
In the Youth Philanthropy Initiative, I learned several important lessons about working in a group on a long term project. Firstly, communication is a key element when working with others. While preparing our presentation, some group members changed work or went ahead without telling their teammates which led to awkward and time consuming debates on what ideas to keep or remove. This led to the need for compromise from everyone because every part of the project is someone’s hard work but not everyone might agree with it.
When one person did a lot of work individually, other teammates, including myself began to do less since they felt that their work was not needed. However, at the end of the project I realized that it was my project too and that I needed to give my opinion if I wanted anything I didn’t agree with to change.
Most of all though, I learned that every issue, no matter how helpless and disturbing the numbers (like those of suicide) may seem, can be prevented. Our organization, the Samaritans targets common issues such as a lack of education that lead people to commit suicide and works on those to make sure as many suicides as possible are prevented.
A problem we encountered throughout the project was that our organization is a crisis hotline focused organization and is completely hidden. They don’t keep track of records and they do not have an open site to visit. This left us at a disadvantage since we couldn’t learn as much about our organization as we wanted and couldn’t show clear statistics for our non-profit. However, I’m glad that we raised awareness about this great group. The fact is that so many people, especially high school students seriously consider suicide and the small bit of help the Samaritans gives really saves lives.
During the Summer of 2014, I went on an incredible voyage through the British Virgin Islands. I sailed, went scuba diving, snorkeling, and learned about marine biology. By far the most gratifying component of the trip was the community service I did with children on the islands. The program was known as the Youth Empowerment Project. We were assigned to work with young children who are underprivileged. We swam with them and taught them how to paddle board. Many did not know how to swim so we provided them with swimming lessons as well. It was amazing to see their eyes light up when we arrived to spend time with them. This act inspired me to want to do more community service work with children. We also cleaned the ocean by diving for trash. The ocean water was breathtaking, and it was sad to see that it was littered with trash. I look forward to future summer community service as it truly completed my summer experience.
This summer, I volunteered at the Children’s Museum of the Arts. CMA is “committed to celebrating the artist in every child and promoting access to the arts for all children regardless of ability or socioeconomic status because we believe the arts are critical to child and youth development and to strong and vibrant communities” (CMA Mission Statement).
I assisted with two classes. The first was “Animating Outer Space and Beyond,” on Governors Island where kids learned to use iStopMotion and a variety of animating skills to create scenes of outer space. They would then have the chance to create their own films using the techniques they learned. Each morning we took the ferry from lower Manhattan to Governors Island. The classes where held in what used to be U.S. Naval Officer housing now outfitted with filming stations, and a screening room. The second week I assisted with “Claymation” at CMA’s main location in SoHo. Here I assisted teachers and helped kids with clay and other materials to create their films.
My time volunteering never seemed like work because I was doing something I really enjoyed. It was great helping teach younger kids how to express themselves through new forms of art.
This summer, I volunteered at the East Hampton Public Library. The East Hampton Library’s purpose is to provide information, knowledge and reading needs for the community of East Hampton and to help maintain the Long Island Collection for historical research . The library is home to over hundreds of books with a large range of genres. At the library, I shelved, shifted, and labeled books as well as adopt the young adult section to take care of while I worked there. I also volunteered to help with the library’s annual children’s book fair, where the entire community comes and attends. There I helped run the booths and the outside attractions. I also helped my fellow volunteers by getting them food and drink or taking over when they got tired. The East Hampton Library is a place where it brings together the community in a sense of learning.
I loved working both at the fair and at the library. This experience helped to give me more of an understanding of community before I volunteered. It showed me how everyone can come together to help build something great, while expecting nothing in return. The library receives volunteers to help manage everything, both children and adults. It is a place where people of all ages can come and learn. To me it also represents a sort of history and family, where children will come to the library to learn or read and someday their children and their grandchildren can come to the library. I found this experience really gratifying and hope to make a tradition of volunteering there.
On January 16th, Friends Seminary hosted the Martin Luther King Jr. concert to benefit the Friends Shelter. As a lifer, I have witnessed and participated in many events to aid the shelter, which has been a valuable part of the school community for as long as I can remember. For those who do not know about the Friends Shelter, the makeshift shelter is set up every night in the common room where 14 beds are set up and food is served to the clients. The shelter relies on donations to provide its services so the MLK concert is a great way to not only provide a night of entertainment but more importantly provide a funding surge for the cash-strapped shelter.
The concert was a multifaceted event with both live music as well as readings and speeches. Friends Seminary’s Jazz 1 Orchestra played several pieces which we had been preparing since school started in September. In addition, it was an honor to play in the same event as such talented musicians who were part of the Meetinghouse Jazz Orchestra. The event was also graced by the influential and inspirational public advocate, Leticia James, who offered a reading and a riveting speech. Letitia James went in depth about her experiences and her struggle to rise from the depths of homelessness as a child. Her success story illustrated how it is possible to overcome homelessness and live a successful productive life. James’ speech not only helped raise money for the shelter but also opened my eyes to the issue of homelessness and provided hope that it is an issue that can be solved or at least mitigated. Philanthropy is more than just throwing money at various causes; providing time and effort, and opening people’s eyes to critical issues is something money alone does not do.
On service day, the seniors went to Yonkers to work with a foundation called AFYA. Afya is a non-profit organization that collects medical supplies that are no longer needed but can still be used. They are collected from hospitals, nursing homes, and other individuals. Then they take these supplies and ship them to their partners in Haiti and African nations. Afya requests that the hospitals and clinics receiving the supplies create a list of the equipment they most need. Afya then tries to best match these requests with the items they have collected.
On service day, I had the chance to work directly with the supplies that will be shipped to hospitals around the world. We organized supplies into big plastic bags, placing each of the same item with each other. We also had to make sure that the expiration date was far enough in advance so that by the time the items got there, they were not useless. After organizing the items into their own respective bags, they were placed into a giant box, which would then be shipped overseas. By the end of the day, we had organized tons of supplies and the staff we worked with were truly grateful for our help.
This was a very rewarding service day for me. It is devastating that simple things such as gauze or rubbing alcohol are not easily accessible everywhere. I think it is a truly wonderful idea that Afya has come up with. There is no need for supplies to go to waste when people all over the world would be so grateful for them. While organizing the equipment, I really felt as though I was making a difference and I can picture the gratitude that doctors in Haiti and Africa would have.
On Friday May 2nd after school I volunteered to help set up for the Spring Fair happening the next day. Initially, my service consisted mostly of moving tables and boxes. At about 4 I started working on decorating the Lobby for the next morning. This first consisted of putting brown paper up around the entire lobby so that we could paint on the paper. After we put the paper on the wholes we began tracing an outline for what the mural would look like. For the next few years we proceeded to paint the mural. This began by filling in the outlines with different colors of paint. Then we went over the outline in dark paint to make the outlines of the building very clear. The final step was to go back over in different colors and paint in the tiny details.
The next day coming back to school it was very nice to see all the little kids and parents commenting on how nice the lobby was. It was enjoyable to be able to do something that made the little kids days slightly better. The coolest thing about painting the mural was seeing how much the lobby transformed and how far we had come. We were able to completely transform the lobby and create a completely different experience for the kinds in only a short period of time.
I have participated in project cicero almost every year since I was a freshman. Project Cicero is an annual non-profit book drive designed to create school libraries for under-resourced New York City public schools. Project Cicero began in 2011 and has distributed over 1,800,000 gently used books to 10,000 New York City classrooms and libraries, reaching an estimated 400,000 students. Over 1,000 teachers come to select books at the event in early March every year. Project Cicero is also a partnership of New York City parent and student volunteers, The New York Society Library, Vornado Realty Trust, and The New York Post.
Saturday and Sunday I arrived at the Hotel Pennsylvania (where the even is held) and helped organize thousands of books for the incoming teachers. Even though the entire area was filled with tons of volunteers chaotically shuffling around to set the books in the right area, I found the task to be rather relaxing and fun. I enjoy organizing and cleaning, so setting up the books for the teachers was not a difficult task. Once we were done, tons of teachers rushed in with giant suitcases that would be soon be filled with books for their students. After the teachers were finished filling their bags to the brim, we opened up more boxes of books and started the same thing all over again. I have always liked participating in project cicero because books are being reused for a good cause. All I need to do is organize and set them up for the students at under-resourced schools to receive the materials they need and deserve.
Since August, I have been one of the leaders of a group called the Network. The Network was started around three years ago by a small group of high school students who wanted to create a safe space for LGBTQQIIAP teens in New York City. An individual’s membership in the Network is confidential in order to create a safe space in which kids who may not necessarily be out don’t have to fear they will be outed before they are ready. Anyone who falls anywhere in the acronym can be a part of the Network, even if they are just questioning. The group has a private Facebook group that can only be seen by it’s members and people can only join if they are invited by an existing member. People post links that are relevant to LGBTQ rights and issues as well as post personal and individual opinions and experiences. Each month there is a Network meeting, usually hosted at someone’s house, where any LGBTQ teen can attend. The two other Network leaders and I plan the meetings, choosing a discussion topic and writing discussion questions and/or activities for the meeting. Similar to one’s membership, things said in the meetings are meant to be confidential to further foster a feeling of safety.
Being a leader of the Network has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I’ve met kids from all over the city from numerous schools and a multitude of different backgrounds. Most of the members don’t have access to a resource like the Network, and I’ve felt honored to to have a larger role in helping to create a safe space for them. The Network is one of the only spaces, if not the only one, these kids encounter in which they are part of the majority rather than the minority. Many do not have accepting family or do not feel comfortable in the environments they’re in every day. Many are still grappling with their identity or are not yet sure where exactly they fit in the acronym. For these reasons, the Network is so important because it can help foster confidence and a feeling of security that allows it’s members to accept themselves, be true to who they are, and even gain the courage to come out and be open about their identity. The discussions at the meetings are always amazing, with numerous different opinions, point of views, and stories being shared throughout. I leave each meeting feeling moved, inspired, and with more knowledge and perspective than I had when I walked in. My involvement with the Network has left me with a motivation to continue work with LGBTQ youth in college and afterwards. I am endlessly grateful for the chance the Network has given me to give back and support so many people who never cease to inspire me.