On February 9th, I along with several of my classmates participated in the HOPE Count. Each year, the NYC Department of Homeless Services conducts its annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate (HOPE), in order to get an accurate estimate of the number of unsheltered homeless living in NYC. The HOPE Count is held during the winter in order to get an idea of the number of homeless who do not have a place to sleep for the night even on one of the coldest nights of the year. After an hour long training at PS41, various groups were assigned districts throughout lower Manhattan. The survey relies on volunteers asking every person they encounter whether or not they had a place to sleep that night. My group consisted of myself, Ben Frisch, Philippe Noisy, and Liam Cook, and we had a total of five districts to survey, including a subway station. After hours of scouring the streets and asking dozens of people questions, our group ended up with the highest number of reported homeless. Statistics is very important in a project such as this because the NYC Department of Homeless Services is reliant on the data that we accumulate throughout the night. We provide them with a statistic that allows them to paint a picture of homelessness in the city.
In the book To Kill a Mockingbird, lawyer Atticus Finch imparts wise words to his daughter, Scout, saying, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”. Homelessness often feels like a myth. People know that there are people without a home, but I feel that not many people are aware of how much of a problem homelessness really is. After doing the HOPE Count, I was confronted with homelessness face to face. I met various homeless people throughout the night and had to ask them several questions, some quite personal. To be honest, it was kind of depressing. However, the biggest takeaway is knowing that I was able to help the city and its efforts to help homeless people. There was also the option for a van to come and pick up any homeless person we encountered and bring them to a shelter (although none I encountered accepted this offer). I believe that we all need to become more aware about homelessness in the city and what we can do to help those in need, especially since homelessness is on the rise.
For my in-school service this year I decided to help set up and run the Spring Fair. The day before the fair, I helped setting up tables and chairs and moving books and other items that would be used for the fair. Although setting up the tables was fun, the real fun came the day of the fair. It was cool seeing the transformation that had taken place in just a day. What seemed like a bunch of tables and chairs turned into a wondrous event filled with life, fun, and excitement. On the day of the fair I began manning the high striker game, where kids showed off their strength, trying to hit the bell the highest. I then rotated my way around different events, seeing where I was needed, and then finally settled in the outer courtyard, manning the drink station. It was fun getting to meet new people, and the weather was beautiful that day, adding an even more lively atmosphere to the event. Somehow I even ended up getting my hair sprayed pink (it’s a shame there are no photos of that…which may have been on purpose)! All in all I am glad that I was able to participate in such a fun event, where the whole Friends community gets to come together and enjoy good food, fun games, and lively entertainment.
Over Spring Break, I travelled with other Arabic students to Jordan for ten days. We spent a good portion of our time there learning about the environmental conflicts that exist in the area through the organization Friends of the Earth Middle East. FoEME looks to further the management of water resources through a combined effort of Jordan, Palestine, and Israel. We spent about three days at the Sharhabil bin Hassneh Eco Park where the employees look to both maintain local habitats and increase public awareness. The organization’s work with local communities demonstrates the need of establishing a common vision. In doing so, FoEME is able to have an even greater impact on environmental policies within the region. However, true success can only be achieved once total cooperation exists across all borders. This lack of cooperation is the main reason why FoEME struggles with politicians and decision-makers in Jordan and surrounding countries. The water issues in Jordan opened my eyes to the severe effects politics can have on the environment. When limited water exists between more than one country, competition naturally ensues. It is important to strive towards maintaing balance between the said parties as well as the ecosystem itself. FoEME’s efforts and perseverance, when numerous politicians fail to acknowledge the problem, will one day prove critical in establishing mutual peace. I am glad that organizations like FoEME are working towards resolving the conflicts through a local and political approach, and I’m glad that we were able to assist the organization in its efforts.
This year, I volunteered as a peer tutor for a middle schooler who needed some help in math. I helped him prepare for tests and complete his homework. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience peer tutoring as I bonded with this middle schooler and saw him grow as a math student. Peer tutoring gave me a great sense of accomplishment as I was able to see the results of my service. Peer tutoring is a great way to give back to the Friends community.
On service day 2014, my advisory went to a NYC food bank. We took the subway out to Harlem and worked in the pantry section, organizing boxed and canned goods. Each member of our advisory had a specific station in the little food supply area and for about two hours, we each stayed in our designated spot, helping the customers choose which goods they wanted and giving them the appropriate amount for their family.
This experience was very touching as we saw a variety of different people come in to shop, including single elders and families with young children. It was crazy to see how we were only allowed to give a certain amount of food to each customer according to the food bank’s policies. It was especially tough denying some of the shoppers when they were begging us to sneak them an extra can of beans or an extra carton of milk.
However, overall, I really enjoyed working at the food bank because we got to interact with the people, which made me feel like I was actually contributing to the community. We furthermore got to experience what it was like for some of those low-income families who had to carefully and strategically pick out their week’s supply of food from very limited choices.
I volunteered at God’s Love We Deliver. I was there for six hours on a Saturday. They were having us chop a lot of vegetables and my hands started to hurt a lot. Even though part of me just wanted to go home with still time left before the shift I signed up for was over, I remembered all the amazing work that the volunteers do that help so many people, who are in real pain. I found the experience very rewarding in the end. Although I didn’t fully enjoy my time doing the service, I began to remember this short video that they showed us as an introduction to the work we were going to do and the people we were going to help. I thought about something that they said, which was, that even though they could just get a machine to chop the vegetables, they have people do it by hand to bring love to the food. And in the end, I found the service rewarding.
This year, I helped the homeless people in my community. I volunteered at my synagogue to pack bags of food and hand them out. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote, “First, we are challenged to rise above the narrow confines of our individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity” speaks to me because It makes me realize that there are people in my community who are not as fortunate as myself and those people need help. It made me feel closer to the community by bonding with the people I worked with and the homeless people who relied on this food to keep them alive and healthy. This activism encouraged me to further my commitment to helping my community.http://www.swfs.org/volunteer/food-programs/
For part of my service in 2013, I volunteered to be one of the older friends for the 8th grade students. I was paired up with two other upper school students, both of them seniors, and the three of us were then paired up with one of the 8th grade advisory groups. Our group met twice this year. The first time our group met was in November, and we held a little meeting for them about high school at Friends. They were able to ask us any questions about high school life, academics, or really anything they were curious about. Since we expected some of them would be shy, the three of us high schoolers also came prepared with some topics to talk about and to share our experiences at Friends. We then met again with our same 8th grade group in January, but this time we took them off campus to have another meeting over lunch. They came prepared with more questions for us, and it was also just a time for us high schoolers to chat with the younger students.
Being a part of this program was a great opportunity that I really enjoyed. It was a great chance to be able to get to know the younger students and hear what they have to say. It was also interesting for me to hear what things they have heard about high school and to reassure them about what is true or not! I got to know the two other seniors as well as the 8th graders, and overall, we had productive group conversations. I feel we really helped reassure some of the 8th graders to stay at Friends for high school and answered most of their pondering questions as well as I got to really think about and reflect on my own experiences in high school, which I do not do very often. I am glad I took a part of this for my service and was happy to help the Friends community.
This past summer I travel with my youth group to Rutland, Massachusetts to volunteer and work with Heifer International. The week’s goals were to learn more about hunger, poverty and ecological sustainability in the world, work in the gardens and the animals that feed those on the grounds and provide local produce for the town, and to come away with ideas and ways to educate those in our communities back home in NYC.
We spent every morning doing animal chores which included feeding, milking, and cleaning of the stalls. By the end of the week I was an expert milker and a professional sheep herder. We spent afternoons having lessons on the different aspects and benefits of Heifer International. We learned about the economic benefits of various animals and how the Heifer ideology of giving away the calf of a cow to others will spread the wealth throughout entire villages. Unfortunately none of the animals that we worked with were given to people in need or that were part of Heifer. This was because it is better for local economies and for the animals if they come from the same region in which they are being given to. We also learned astonishing facts such as that North America is 5% of the population of the world and yet we use nearly a third its resources and make half of its waste. We learned fun facts as well, for example there are more chickens than people on the planet. And then in the nights we fed and put away the animals.
We learned how to live and eat sustainably and how to minimize our carbon foot print individually, as community, as nation and as a world. All of the meals we made and ate were from vegetables and animals that were raised and grown on the farm. We learned how important it is for us to eat local. Not only for our own health but for the ecological and economic benefits that it can give to our country and the world.
However some of the most important lessons learned on this trip was that of faith and family. One of the nights we stayed on the farm we spent living in the global village. This was a walking tour through the woods that had pit stops containing houses, gardens, animals and activities that would be found in the third world countries and areas that Heifer helps. I say areas because I was astonished to find that two of the 8 pit stops can be found in America. Three of my friends and I were selected to live in the Guatemala site and the rest of the group was spread out in the Kenya, Nepal, Ghana and Poland sites. We were sent to the village to trade for food where we got baby formula along with beans, cornmeal and an onion. The baby formula was because I was a expectant mother. Dinner was flavorless beans and cornmeal but we shared and bartered with fellow tribes and regions to make a feast. At what I assumed to be 8 o’clock (I didn’t know because we weren’t allowed 1st world items) I gave birth to a beautiful water balloon named Maria. Then in the morning we awoke to a frost that had destroyed a years worth of crops and we, as family. were forced to send our eldest son to work in the dangerous mines in the near by town.
Living in the village was hard for us city goers but no doubt was a piece of cake compared to the circumstances that are really in Guatemala. But it did teach me a few things. First it taught me that when making beans you need salt. Second that we as a society must do something to help these areas in dire circumstances and prevent another family from having to send there son off to work in unsafe areas. Third it taught me that even when you are sleeping out side, in a yurt or a hut and don’t have food or technology the only thing you truly need for happiness is friends around you, love and laughter.
My work with Heifer International over the summer was truly rewarding in many aspects. I can only hope that all those in our community can have such an eye-opening and rewarding experience.