This spring, I played music with the Park Avenue Synagogue Teen Band at a Jewish Nursing Home. Many of the elderly viewers were sleeping or uninterested, but there was a group of a few of them who were smiling from ear to ear. By the end of the set, a majority of the residents were clapping and singing along. It made me really happy to see that by doing what I love (music), would give someone else joy. Nothing was better than seeing a bunch of elderly people who didn’t want to be there, end up really enjoying themselves. I also love that we entertained them, we gave them an hour to forget about any of their worries. It just made me really happy to see that our music made them happy too!
I had the pleasure of cutting potatoes in the kitchen at St. John’s Bread and Life. While I was there I saw how many ordinary people were just extremely hungry. It could have been you or me who was there. It amazed me how many people came in and out throughout the small amount of time I was there. If this is just one small amount of the many food pantry’s in New York, it just goes to show how many people are hungry in New York. To me, it is completely wrong that so many people need assistance in getting a warm meal. It should be a basic human right, no one should be hungry. And yet, it is a drastic issue, which needs to be addressed. I’m really glad I got to see this in person, because seeing how many people are affected by this issue really puts it into perspective, rather than a graph, statistics or a lecture.
On Tuesday April 30th, members from the Kalief Browder Foundation and Friends students went to Albany to lobby for the H.A.L.T Solitary Confinement Act to be brought to the floor as soon as possible. Upon our arrival, I had the first meeting with my group with majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Even though the meeting was only 10 minutes, I spoke about the detrimental impacts of solitary confinement and my group members spoke more about the bill, shared personal stories and important statistics to persuade senator Stewart-Cousins to bring the bill to the floor. In the afternoon, my second group and I met with a representative of Senator Alessandra Biaggi, already a co-sponsor of the bill, to persuade her to ask other senators to sign the bill and continue advocating for it. Meeting the senators and their representatives in Albany gave me insight on how advocacy is not a one time event. When Senator Stewart-Cousins explained to us the the difficulties of supporting the H.A.L.T. bill and told us about opposition and social tensions regarding the bill, I understood that the fight and the work for advocating for a cause you support is ongoing. I also had the opportunity of listening to other senators at an open press conference between the two meetings. The senators were co sponsors of the bill and although they were very genuine in their support for the bill and the people, it was evident that they could not promise or make quick actions for the bill to be passed, but it was a continuous and rigorous process.
This March, I volunteered at the annual Project Cicero book drive at the Hotel Pennsylvania. I helped unpack and sort donated books for teachers to take for use in under-resourced New York public schools. As I was unpacking these books, teachers came in to take books for their own classrooms. It was a heartening experience to see how many people were there to volunteer and how ready they were to help. As someone who has always loved to read, I loved seeing teachers take books that I used to read continuously, since I knew another kid might soon enjoy those books as much as I did. Although the room was overwhelming at first because of the crowd and noise, I soon got used to how hectic it was, and I enjoyed being a part of the experience. I remember from my time at a public school how hard it can be for teachers to have access to the books they need, and Project Cicero really helps to bring new books to those classrooms. I had a really positive experience with Project Cicero, and I definitely think that I will volunteer next year.
Throughout the summer, I worked at Church Street Music School with children. I was able to interact with children in a way that I usually don’t have a chance to, being an only child, and was surprised and excited to have bonded with them in such a short span of time. I also helped them learn to read music, and am glad to have been able to help them pursue a path in which they can explore music in further detail.
When our history class started YPI in December, our group – Su, Bora, Rixi and myself really wanted to support a non-profit that tackled the problem of unemployment of immigrants in New York, as we believe this is the root cause of other social issue faced by immigrants (education, healthcare, housing, etc.) We were really excited to partner with the Business Center of New Americans, a nonprofit which aims to make immigrants, refugees and its other clients self-sufficient by providing access to affordable credit, empowering with financial education, and offering training in best business practices and technology. We feel BCNA offers necessary opportunities for refugees and undocumented immigrants to pursue the careers they always dreamed of and teaching them to be independent as well. As I learnt more about BCNA and how they make an impact in New York, I have also learnt so much about the astonishing statistics of unemployment and unequal pay of immigrants. I was in constant communication with Yanki Tshering, the executive director of BCNA, to learn more about its programs and services and the several people BCNA has helped change lives of. I also got to learn about the story of Alimata Zabsonre, a refugee from Burkina Faso and a BCNA client who started her own hair braiding business with help from BCNA. YPI has been really meaningful to me and I am so grateful to have been able to participate in the program because I have learnt so much about different social issues faced by immigrants, amazing non profits who do commendable work to help and how I can help make a difference. Although I have read and learnt so much about the refugee crisis and problems immigrants face in the news and other media, YPI gave me a deeper insight to the issues as I made many connections with different people.
The organization my group researched for our YPI project, the NYIC, focuses on helping immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, learn what rights they are entitled to and helps them in their search for legal status. The NYIC is a very large organization with over 100 member organizations, so while making the presentation I found it difficult to condense what they do into an effective ten minute presentation. Despite this challenge, I still found learning more about NYIC very rewarding. It made me much more empathetic towards undocumented immigrants because I learned more about how little information is available to them when coming to America. There are programs, such as emergency medicaid and pre-k for all, that undocumented immigrants are entitled to. However, they are not always aware these programs exist. Although I have always recognized the hardships illegal immigrants face, now that I have completed the YPI project, I am more aware of how hard it is to come to America without having any connections in the country or sometimes even speaking the language.
Since January, I have been volunteering every Wednesday at an organization called Reading Partners where I have been helping a girl who is behind reading level in her grade to develop her reading skills. I read with her, practice comprehension skills like sequence of events, and do practice worksheets with her. At first, Reading Partners was not what I thought it would be. The girl I was tutoring was really not interested in reading, and she would sometimes refuse to talk to me. I began to feel like I wasn’t making a difference at all, and I was frustrated about her lack of interest. But when I talked to Mariana, the supervisor of the Reading Partners site, she told me about possible struggles the girl was having at her home. When Mariana spoke about this to me, I realized that when you volunteer, you might not always see an immediate positive outcome. There are some circumstances that are beyond your control. It’s easy to get discouraged about this, but it was important for me to remember that volunteering isn’t about making myself feel better about what a good person I am. It’s about genuinely helping someone else, not for your self-interest but because you want to help make someone’s life better.
I’m now tutoring a different girl at Reading Partners, who’s a little younger and isn’t always interested in reading or doing activities. But instead of getting discouraged, I keep working with her, and I think that she might get up to grade reading level. I find tutoring her really rewarding, and I love moments like when she figures out how to read a word she was having trouble with before. Through my time at Reading Partners, I’ve learned that you might not always see progress right away when volunteering but that doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. It takes time to see progress.
This summer I had the opportunity to work with Homes of Hope in the Dominican Republic to help build a home for Juana Santana Vargas and her family. The three days during which we worked were extremely fulfilling. It was my first time physically building. At first, I was very nervous because we were using drills and power saws and other power tools. However, Demali, Juana’s daughter would always watch us working and she would become so happy that we all had a great time. On day 1, (Tuesday) We put up the four walls and the interior walls. I enjoyed creating the framework for the interior walls a lot. On day 2 (Wednesday), we did the electrics, and lined the interior walls, painted, put in windows and almost finished the roof. I mostly painted. However, as we were putting up the roof, it started raining and the paint on the walls was still wet so lots of it came out so we all put on raincoats and doubled up our pace; we re-did everything and thankfully finished by the end of the day. Finally, on day 3 (Thursday), we finished lining the interior walls and the rooms, completely finished the roof and we put in the furniture. After the house was complete and we furnished it, the family entered the house and they were very emotional. They started crying and were so grateful as they told us that if we had not built the house for them, Juana needed to work seven whole years to get all the materials for the house. This is when I realized how grateful I should be for everything I have because things that come so easily to us is actually very hard to acquire for others. Overall, it was an extremely enriching experience and I hope I can do it again next summer!
AFYA website: https://afyafoundation.org/our-mission/
For day of service, five advisories participated in sorting medical supplies for AFYA. AFYA is an organization that recovers unused medical supplies from hospitals, sorts and ships them to 56 countries around the world. They allow countries who cannot afford advanced medical supplies to get what they need, and have collected and shipped $26 million worth of medical supplies. This experience made me aware of the fact that so many other people around the world are not able to get the medical care they need, and it made me want to find more ways to give back to other communities who have much less than we do. After completing our service, I noticed how many more boxes were surrounded by us, and really wanted to come back and help sort. By sorting those medical supplies, so many people are now able to receive the medical care they need, and I’m glad that I was part of the effort.