Olivia’s Help Dinner Service Reflection

Two weeks ago, I volunteered at the last Help Dinner of the year. It was my first and last Help Dinner at Friends, and I enjoyed it very much. A group of teenagers and young adults came to have dinner with us from Covenant House, which is a shelter for homeless youth. At first, it was difficult to start a conversation, I think because both parties felt they did not have a lot in common with the other one. Of course, we were wrong, and both tables I sat at ended up having some intense discussions about Amanda Bynes, future careers, horoscopes, how the human body works (there was an aspiring doctor at one table), and pandas.

Towards the end of the evening, one of the women asked me if she could charge her phone, and I took her to the cafeteria so she could use one of the outlets. We ended up sitting and talking for a little while, and she told me very briefly about her childhood, and how she had come to Covenant House, and where she was planning to go. She told me she was currently working for the Board of Education as a teacher aide. After hearing what a hard time she had had growing up, I couldn’t believe she had it in her to give in that way to others. As she told me about her job, however, her face just kept lighting up and I realized that giving, for her, was healing.

All in all, I think I learned more from my service experience than I helped anyone, but hopefully I’m wrong and I did both. I strongly recommend attending a Help Dinner to anyone who hasn’t gone to one yet.

Max at Smart Clothes

Working at a new Lower East Side gallery this past break, I found myself amidst an eclectic stew of characters. From the Eskimo-Aleutian-tattooed, intermittent resident of the gallery basement, to the various artists, to the owner himself–a trained gourmet chef–my time at the gallery was an exercise in discerning the fine line between brilliance and insanity. The gallerists taught me so much, not through instruction, but by allowing me to figure things out on my own. By the second week, I was calling artists, benefactors and production companies and assisting in the curation of two upcoming shows. The owner even took my editorial suggestions, including and excluding certain pieces from shows, which gave me confidence in my eye. All my opinions were taken seriously–it gave me a voice. I was even given responsibility for designing the advertisements for the gallery’s big premiere show, a design first in my career. Above all, they trusted me, and that trust inspired me to do my best.

Inside of gallery space: 

Stef Tai’s Film

I have been developing the script and organizing production of a film, titled “Animals.” I plan to shoot this film in August and finish it by 2014. It will be approximately 30 minutes long, and will be distributed to film festivals around the US.

The film is built upon the premise that humans have become almost irretrievably detached from nature. We have forgotten how dependent on nature we have been, are, and will always be. Because of this, we have poured ridiculous amounts of pollutants into the atmosphere/water, and are beginning to see the consequences of our selfish actions, which fall under the broad canopy of “global warming.”

We always hear about the “Green Movement” and global warming, but rarely do we see significant new laws/policies/movements that actually help to remedy the situation. Global warming has been put on the back burner, while people ignore the scientifically accepted fact that we will begin to see catastrophic weather patterns, natural disasters, and rising water levels, which could kill millions and eventually even billions of people. Ultimately, this is an issue that OUR generation will have to deal with, not the 65 year old senators of this country. We need to take responsibility for our future, and place more urgency on global warming.

These views came to me from living in the city for seventeen years, my week-long blackout-experience during Hurricane Sandy, and my realization that when I broke my leg recently, I would have died if it weren’t for technology and modern medicine. Thus, “Animals” chronicles a couple during a blackout, and their views on the future of their daughter, in a world where one minute the lights are on, the next minute floodwater pours into their pitch black house.

This is a theme I have grappled with for years, and I consider making this film to at least be somewhat proactive in my goal to fight global warming.

Christian Hoyos’ Summer of Service

This summer I went on a community service and leadership trip with Rustic Pathways to Costa Rica. For the first four days of the trip, along with 15 other American teenagers and 3 Rustic Pathways counselors, I was given the opportunity to get acquainted with my colleagues and the beauty of the Costa Rican rain forest by going white water rafting, zip-lining, and horse-back riding.

On day five, we arrived at ‘Casi Cielo’, located one and a half miles away from La Fortuna, the facility where we would host our camp for a select group of Costa Rican children- the little Ticos. Immediately after arriving, we participated in intensive training sessions which gave us strategies and ideas for working together and turning our ideas into a real summer camp for Costa Rican children. Then, we spent the afternoon working to plan the agenda for the next week and creating the itinerary and activities that eventually made our summer camp a wonderful success!

The next 7 days were a dream come true for the little Ticos who for the most part were participating in their first ever “summer camp.” The Ticos were chosen to come to the camp because they demonstrated diligence in school. Although some days it was very tiring to wake up at 7:00 am (especially in the summer!) and to take care of hyper children, I was always motivated to give every moment my best effort because I knew how much it meant to the kids and how hard they worked to be there. I woke up early early everyday to have breakfast with my fellow counselors and to put the final touches on the agenda for the day, before receiving the Ticos at 8:00 am.

We spent the next 7 days with the children, running various games and activities while coordinating their lunch and snack times. The children would alternate from the arts and crafts station to the outdoor station and then to the indoor station. The camp name was ‘Los Pequenos Superheroes’ (The Little Superheroes); we tried to incorporate the superhero theme into all of our activities. The Ticos were split up into three groups: Los Monos Fantasticos (The Fantastic Monkeys), Los Capitanes Ticos (The Captains Ticos), and Los Conquistadores Ticos (The Conquerers Ticos). On the last day of camp, we set up an awesome Superhero Olympics day, where a “villain” was said to be destroying Costa Rica; the little Ticos had to compete in different activities to win pieces of a puzzle that would eventually form a map leading to where the villain was hiding! Through teamwork and a lot of laughs, the little Ticos finally built the puzzle and captured the villain! (Shout outs go to our camp supervisor, Oliver, for dressing up as the villain and enduring the playful punches and kicks the little Ticos gave him when they believed they had captured the man who was “destroying their country!”)

We said goodbye to the little Ticos everyday at 4:00 pm when the bus came to pick them up. After a nice 15 minute break of silence (the break was definitely needed), we, the camp counselors, would enjoy our free time by jumping into the river, playing cards, and telling stories of funny moments that happened throughout the day with the little Ticos. In the evening, before dinner, we would all gather around to evaluate the day and prepare for the next one. Sometimes there were children that were not engaging in an activity so we had to think about ways to get them more involved. We would share stories of what activities worked so that we could plan future activities according to what the children were liking. A large part of our discussions was our organization. Sometimes groups took too long to move from station to station or were taking too long to to finish an activity, which both caused delays in everyone’s schedule; no one wanted to miss lunch or an activity. Being 16 and 17 year olds, which are usually supervised and not the supervisors, we had to discuss ways that we could improve our organization (which we did!).

On the final day of camp, we went to “Termales”, a large family-style water park. After an amazing day spent running around and swimming with the little Ticos, which we had gotten to know so well in the course of the week, it was time to say goodbye. Upon arriving in Costa Rica and seeing the little Ticos I was not expecting to get emotionally attached to anything in the short two week trip, but I did. When the bus dropped us off at our camp, we were told that the kids were going to stay on the bus- this was goodbye. After giving them hugs and saying goodbye to all the kids, I got off the bus as quickly as possible because I couldn’t bear to see them crying. As I was waiting for my colleagues to get off the bus, the little Ticos threw bracelets, shirts, and notes out of the windows of the bus to me, making the goodbye so much harder. I picked them up and put them in my bag and waved goodbye, grateful that I had an effect on their lives.

While working with the kids, I saw so much of my little cousins and friends from Colombia when I looked at the little Ticos. Their stories were so similar; one girl, Laura, told me, in response to my question, “what do you like to do,” that she liked only to study because when she got good grades her mother would take her to McDonalds-something that is taken for granted in the United States. Hearing things like that while on my trip to Costa Rica reminded me of why it  is so important to have a larger perspective and understand that not everyone lives like you! I’m so glad I was able to mentor the children in Costa Rica, even if it was for 7 days. I am hopeful that they will remember our advice: have confidence and you can do anything you want to! Looking back now, I read the little note that Marlon threw to me from the window of the bus: (translated) “I thank you so much for everything you did for us and for being my friend, I love you.”

I’m so grateful for the opportunity that Friends Seminary gave me to be able to go on this trip. I look forward to going to Costa Rica again in the near future to check-in on the lives of the children I met. This trip has also motivated me participate in similar mentoring activities in my local community and, hopefully in the future, in the global community.

To conclude, I would like to share a quote from a shaman in the Maleku tribe that I met in Costa Rica: Everyone is the same: has legs, arms, hands, and feet. The only difference between them is what they have in their mind and heart.