This year I volunteered to help sort and pack refugee donations for shipment at the AFYA Foundation. After hearing UNICEF photographer Ashley Gilbertson speak to the Upper School during Peace Week at Friends, I felt inspired to do whatever I could to help the Syrian Refugee Crisis. In his speech, Ashley Gilbertson talked about the hardships experienced by Syrian refugees as they flee from violence in their homes and try to find safe places to live in Europe. I learned that not only is traveling physically arduous (families must walk for miles at night), but many of the camps that refugees stop at on the way do not have medical amenities, or simply not enough to help the millions of people who pour in from Syria. The AFYA workers who welcomed us at the Foundation told us that many people think the way to help the Syrian Refugee Crisis is to go to Greece and physically receive families off the boats; however, one way to truly make a difference for the Syrian people is to fulfill the desperate need for medical resources.
Along with a group of Friend Seminary students, I sorted and packaged medical tools and appliances that had been donated by hospitals around New York. We recorded expiration dates and gathered groups of items together to ship off to organizations in Europe aiding the refugees. Although it was menial work, it felt extremely important because I knew that all of the items we were packaging would go to making a refugee family’s journey safer and easier.
When we (the Service Committee, R.A.N.E., and Feminists at Friends) began our work, I think some people in our community didn’t understand why street harassment was something that we were even talking about. Why spend time raising awareness of street harassment when the world has bigger problems?
For the answer to that question, we turned to the men, women, and gender non-conforming members of our community who have experienced street harassment. We looked within ourselves and gave voices to experiences that, for some of us, were once an enormous source of shame.
Growing up in New York City, I (and most or all of the girls and women I know) experienced street harassment at a very young age– around eleven years old. And it’s not only uncomfortable, it’s scary. It’s scary when someone exploits your vulnerability and forces their image of you upon you. You may see yourself as a kid, but what happens when someone stares, howls, hisses, or says sexually explicit things to you when you’re walking to school? What happens as a result of the rape culture you’ve grown up in? Most of us blame ourselves. We think abut what we were wearing or how we were walking, when in reality we are not to blame at all.
The Chalk Walk and the Art Installation were both successful in many ways. The Chalk Walk brought together a group of students to spread a message of respect across the neighborhood. We wrote phrases of our own making and phrases suggested by Hollaback! (an international anti-street harassment organization). Some included: “MY DRESS IS NOT A YES” and “MY NAME IS NOT HEY BABY.” The Art Installation in the Quaker Library provided an important physical space to safely meditate on an issue that, by nature, is rooted in discomfort and an absence of a sense of safety in public spaces. The photographs, text messages, poetry and audio recordings of personal stories from the community were all very moving. I felt extremely lucky to be part of both of these projects.
This summer, I worked as a lifeguard and swim instructor at Saint Bartholomew’s Cathedral on Lexington avenue. Originally, I planned to lifeguard exclusively, but when the need arose for an extra swim instructor, I was also put in that role. I worked with kids between the ages of 3 and 13, with varying levels of ability; I found myself keeping one child afloat while shouting at another to slow down! This was hard work, as aside from remembering names, I also had to remember levels of ability, fears, and other crucial pieces of information. The work was, however, extremely rewarding, as in explaining techniques, I gained a better understanding of them myself.
I gained a much better understanding of how to relate to people through this experience. One of the most difficult things that most children have to overcome when learning to swim is learning to get over the fear of going underwater and floating on one’s back. Trying to persuade a terrified six year old to do either of these things is an arduous, and often extremely frustrating process. I quickly learned that just asking them to do it over and over was NOT the way to go. Instead, I found that if i did it first, and showed that although it might look scary it is not that difficult, the children who i taught were very reassured.
At the very beginning of the school year, I volunteered at Back-to-School Night. Back-to-School Night is a welcome event not just for new parents, but for all Upper School parents. Parents get a chance to meet their children’s teachers, ask questions, and learn a little bit about the content of the classes. In past years, I’ve completed my in-school service by doing a myriad of smaller events that added up (like Empty Bowls and sandwich-making), so to do a major school event like this one was new for me. Usually my in-school service experiences were physically in school, but to benefit an outside organization, so getting to help out at an event for the Friends community was a good experience.
I was assigned timekeeper– an interesting job, since it involved ringing a large metal bell in a hallway of the main building– and I served as a general guide for parents who were unfamiliar with the building. It was a fun, albeit slightly chaotic experience, and I enjoyed meeting parents and helping to keep the event running smoothly. I also got to keep my neon Friends t-shirt, which I will probably wear next year when I volunteer for Back-to-School Night again.
This year for my service requirement I continued my volunteer work at Planned Parenthood. Because I had taken the necessary activist training course last year, I was able to really give my time to the organization this year. I helped assemble safe sex kits and information packets. The Spring Luncheon is Planned Parenthood’s biggest annual fundraiser and raises over $500,000 to support the organization. The work that goes into planning the Luncheon is extremely important. For a couple of hours I folded invitations and stuffed envelopes. Even though the work I did was menial, it was necessary and I definitely felt like I was making a difference. I enjoy working for Planned Parenthood, even though some of the volunteer opportunities I take part in might not be direct activism, because I think the organization is one of the only organizations to really push forward and progress the Women’s Movement by providing health care to all women, regardless of class, race, social-economic status, etc. I love how the organization is welcome to anybody and everybody, and I find working for it to be a rewarding experience considering how important it is to achieving gender equality in our world today.
As a sophomore, I participated in Project Cicero’s big book drive and sorting in the Hotel Pennsylvania, which is across the street from the not-so-hot Knicks’ Madison Square Garden, and I decided to work with this organization this year. Project Cicero works to create and supplement classroom libraries in under-resourced New York City public schools, something that is beneficial to all education in New York City. Like last year, the event that I attended was one where we all sorted all of the books that had been donated in order to support this cause. I arrived on the Saturday of the event with my brother, both of us ready to sort early reader books from sports biographies, and other work along that line. I find sorting books very soothing, which made the work quite easy and made it possible for me to work for a long period of time. For about 3 hours, I wandered around a large room full of people with a large stack of books in my hands, and placed the wide variety of books in different cardboard boxes, finding it relaxing and not strenuous at all. Project Cicero is a very successful organization. It has distributed 2.3 million new and gently used books to more than 13,000 New York City classrooms, reaching over 550,000 students. I highly recommend participating in one of it’s next events because the work is not difficult; however, the significance of your work is high. In the future, I will be working with Project Cicero, ready to sort any book that comes my way.
Project Cicero: http://projectcicero.org/
This year, on April 28th, all of Friends Seminary’s Upper School participated in its annual service day, where each grade takes a break from classes and instead engages in various acts of service around New York. Last year, I found the day to be somewhat hectic, with a long drive into upstate New York and not much work actually being done; however, this year, I believed that the 11th grade’s day of service was well thought out, active, and rewarding. My day started bright and early at 8:00, all juniors meeting in the cafeteria, preparing for the day ahead. The grade was split up and assigned to different projects across the city so that we all would not be working in one filled area because after all, New York City is a pretty cramped place. My advisory had been assigned to work with the New York Common Pantry, an organization that works toward the reduction of hunger and food insecurity through a variety of different programs, which include fresh food pantry packages, hot meals, working with the homeless and providing them with food, and many other much needed programs. We traveled up to 109th St. to the headquarters of this organization, ready to participate in any way that we could. After a friendly greeting from the other workers that were in charge, we were escorted down to the warehouse, where a large amount of food had been packaged or ready to be distributed out to those who needed it. The space had a great atmosphere, with cheerful classic R&B music playing in the background, which in my opinion, helped make any sort of manual labor not tiring at all. We were ready to start our work! Our work consisted of organizing the food that had been donated and making it much easier to be distributed for the day ahead. The Common Pantry had received a wide range of food. I recall carrying pasta, gnocchi, beans, potatoes, fruits, vegetables, and much more! We worked for about two hours and everyone was in high spirits. Usually when someone wants me to do any sort of physical chore, I have a good excuse at hand; however, my peers and I all seemed happy to work because of the work we were doing and also because of the great atmosphere that the New York Common Pantry had created. After our hard work, we returned back to school, where we were welcomed by the school’s Pop-up cafe situated in the outer courtyard. I had a killer snow cone. After lunch, we all gathered in the meetinghouse to watch the documentary, A Place at the Table, which told the story of hunger in America. We sadly learned that 50 Million Americans—1 in 4 children—don’t know where their next meal is coming from, discovering all of these harsh facts through many powerful stories of different Americans’ experiences with hunger. This movie helped me really grasp how important organizations like the New York Common Pantry actually are. These organizations tirelessly combat hunger in America and work every day to provide for those who really need a good meal. In conclusion, my service day was a truly memorable day and a very successful day of service, with both service that was supposed to aid those in hunger and also a vivid story that helped me see how important our work actually was. I look forward to service day next year.
New York Common Pantry: http://www.nycommonpantry.org/index.html
I have been involved with Congregation Rodeph Sholom’s Shireinu services for several years. Shereinu translates to “our songs” and is a religious service tailored to be more accessible to people with disabilities and their families. It is very rewarding to see the positive effect that my work has, and to see how happy it makes people to be in a more accessible environment. I felt that this experience was especially meaningful to me, as my sister, Sadie, is on the autism spectrum. Seeing other families with young members with disabilities getting involved in the service brought me a lot of joy, as these kinds of services were not around when Sadie was their age.
This summer I interned at the Food Bank for NYC. The Food Bank is an
organization that provides food, financial services, and nutritional
education to people below the poverty line throughout New York City.
At the Food Bank, I had the pleasure of working with Laine Rolong, one
of the mangers in the finance sector. I helped her map out which
regions in New York needed the most financial assistance, and
together, we came up with specific ways The Food Bank could be of help
to each neighborhood. In addition, I helped facilitate credit
workshops in poor neighborhoods in the Bronx. The workshops were held
in spanish at elementary schools so parents could easily
participate. At these workshops, we taught
parents the basics about how to get and manage credit and debt, since
many of these parents had never had a credit card. Helping with these
workshops was the most hands-on service I have ever done. My main role
was to help the parents fill our informational worksheets because many
of them were illiterate. It was a sad awakening to see parents of
children in the United States that could neither speak english nor
write (even in spanish). However, the fact that they were at these
workshops meant that they wanted to improve their situation, and it was inspiring to see parents move out of their comfort zone in order to do so.
During the third quarter, I participated in a service event, which helped Project Cicero provide educational materials for kids who needed them. For around 3 hours, i helped sort hundreds of books into different categories. It was a little strenuous at times; however, i found it a good way to do service in a relaxing way.