Rachel’s Service Day Reflection

For the YPI project completed on Service Day, my group and I chose the devastating issue of HIV/AIDs in NYC. This disease can be transmitted through blood transfusions, needle exchanges, occupational contact, sexual relations, and pregnancy. Specifically, any contact with amniotic, genital, cerebrospinal, and synovial fluids can cause people to develop the disease. This issue popularly arose in New York City in the 1980’s, mainly in homosexual men and continues to trouble all races and sexualities of the population of New York City. In New York state, 129,000 people live with HIV/AIDs, 80% of this population resides in New York City. This year, 4,000 people will be diagnosed with HIV/AIDs in New York, and in the first half of 2011, 93% of the women who were infected were either black or hispanic. A positive correlation exists between homelessness and HIV/AIDs, since it is such a costly disease that can affect many parts of the body. With the weakening of the immune system, many health problems arise that need medical attention. In order to protect the city managed services, the New York City council spends over $10 million per year on this issue. We found an organization, originating in New York City, that thrives to serve and aid people in this unfortunate state of living with HIV/AIDs with no shelter or services to live for much longer.

Housing Works, originally a sect of Act Up that aims for the same goals, is a non for profit organization that seeks to help HIV/AIDs ridden people who are struggling with shelter and finances. They offer several programs and services, as well as the most important to this population, housing. With locations in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island, and Manhattan, singles, families, women, and people in a transgender transition stage can all have a place to sleep at night. In addition to housing, Housing Works, supports clean needle exchange, dental care, home care management, harm reduction, and medical care centers in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Through thrift and book shops, the organization raises money to support these services and the people who depend on them. The stores also hire clients that have or do currently live in their housing in order to get back to a sane life and learn how to be successful.

When we began researching this issue, I did not realize how drastically this virus still affects people today or the fact that homelessness is related to the contraction of HIV/AIDs. Through research, I have learned more about this issue and how to develop presentable information on such a difficult topic. I also learned how to coordinate meetings with and discuss these issues with professionals such as the people we met with at Housing Works. One of the most challenging aspects of this project was finding a way to convey the audience that HIV/AIDs is more present than one would expect through our slide show and the significance of the care Housing Works provides for people. www.housingworks.org

Gems (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services) YPI Service Reflection Javin Bose

GEMS YPI Service Learning Reflection

The commercial sexual exploitation of girls in this country and this city is an issue, which for the past several decades has been one of the most secretive criminal industries in the world.  In this city alone, there are thousands of girls between the ages of 12 and 24 sexually exploited every single day, which in a nation whose core values are freedom and equality, is unacceptable.  Thankfully, after the hundreds of years that this injustice has been occurring, people are starting to realize the importance of this issue.  People are starting to realize just how far the commercial sexual exploitation of girls spans and just how close to home it occurs.  This generation is the future of our city, our country, and our world, and if the children of this generation aren’t safe, then our future is not secure.  People in this country who are not exposed to this issue, tend to think that these atrocities only happen in countries like Cambodia and India.  Until people realize that their cities and neighborhoods aren’t as safe as they may seem, and until those who do know about this issue start to realize that the only way to stop these heinous crimes is to empower the exploited youth, and inform the thousands of children at risk, the country that many of us pride ourselves in creating is no better than the countries that we see on the news every single day.  Finally, there is an organization full of unbelievably dedicated and amazing people, who realize what this issue is and how to put an end to it.  That organization is called Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS).


Gems was founded by one of the most amazing people I have ever met, her name is Rachel Lloyd.  After growing up in the United Kingdom in an unstable and often abusive home, Rachel who at the time was just a teenager left her home and fell into the dark and seemingly endless hole that is sex trafficking.  She was sold, beaten, raped, gang raped, and nearly killed by both her abusive captors, and herself as a result of her numerous suicide attempts.  Rachel; however, was lucky enough to escape the sex industry and relocate to the United States to work as a missionary to help victims of sex trafficking.  And in 1998, at the age of 23, Rachel founded Gems with 30 dollars and a borrowed computer, which now has helped thousands of girls directly and reached out to tens of thousands more.  Gems’ mission is to empower victims of sex trafficking aged 12-24 and help them achieve their full potential, as well as putting an end to the commercial sex industry by changing individual lives, transforming public perception, and revolutionizing the systems and policies that impact sexually exploited youth.  Gems helped 357 girls in 2013 and reached over 1500 children through their hugely successful outreach initiative.  They provide court mandated sessions, medical and psychological care, educational help and GED tutoring, crisis and semi permanent housing for up to two years, among many other services to help the girls who come to Gems get back on their feet and feel empowered.  Gems also helped pass the milestone Safe Harbor Act, which ensures in the state of New York that a victim of child sexual exploitation, will not be prosecuted and thrown in prison for being a victim of statutory rape, which happened and still happens far too often.


1) In what ways did your attitude toward our social issue change over the course of the project?

When I first heard about and started to research this issue I had a similar reaction to that which I see whenever I try to explain this issue to someone else.  There are generally three barriers, which the mind seems to put up when faced with a reality that is so hard to believe.  The first step is shock and disbelief, followed by someone trying to rationalize the idea by saying that it happens in different countries or that it’s a small anomaly in this country.  Finally, people start accusing the girls of being insecure, or having a mental disability, or just wanting to have sex at a young age as a form of fun or rebellious behaviour.  These reactions are understandable given the shocking nature of the reality, which people need to face.


2) What skills did you develop over the project?

When faced with this project and this issue, which I grew more and more concerned and involved with, I worked a lot on my public speaking skills, as well as interpersonal skills when meeting members of Gems and our interview with two members of their team.  Furthermore, I found myself devoting a large amount of time to editing media to make it appealing to our audience as well as the presentation, which we presented.  Team work also played a huge role in this project, which proved challenging, but ended up being an enriching experience.  The biggest thing I took away from this is learning about this issue and in the process meeting people like Nicholas Krystof, Kennedy Odede, Rachel Lloyd, and learning about nonprofits all around the world like Shining Hope for Communities, Half the Sky, The Polaris Project, and Gems.


3) What aspect of the project did you find most challenging?

The most challenging part of this project was getting in touch with and meeting with people who are so busy and dedicated 24 hours a day 7 days a week.  Despite the challenges, I think it was well worth the work.


4) What aspect of the project did you find most rewarding?

Meeting the people that I was able to meet was one of the most rewarding aspects of this project.  It also felt great to be involved in a cause so much bigger than yourself and to learn about an issue, which is so hidden and secretive, yet the second biggest criminal industry on Earth after the drug trade.  I’ll never forget meeting a man with an amazing story at the beginning of this project named Kennedy Odede, who along with his wife started Shining Hope for Communities.  He told me that, “the absolute worst thing you can do is have the opportunity to have a world class education and waste it”.  I’ve found myself thinking about this quote and how it ties into the way I look at things and the way others think about the issues that face us.


5) How might you remain engaged with your social issue or nonprofit organization?

I definitely want to stay engaged in this issue in the future.  A member of my group has secured a spot for Rachel Lloyd to speak at Friends Seminary in late May, and next year we as a group have been considering a fundraiser for Gems and/or other projects who help victims of sex trafficking both in the United States and worldwide, where over 800,000 people are trafficked every year.


Mali’s YPI Reflection

Mali Axinn

Jamie Lieberman

World History 1

May 8, 2014

Service Learning Reflection

The social issue my group chose to discuss was education. Our concern was that students around New York City are deprived of adequate educational opportunities. My group learned that there is a direct correlation between poverty and educational opportunity. We chose to advocate for The Door, a non-profit organization that provides services and programs to young people who are struggling with poverty and/or homelessness. The Door serves over 11,000 teenagers a year from all over the metropolitan area.  At the Door, students are offered educational opportunities such as GED programs and other academic tutoring and arts programs to help them move forward with their lives and develop career interests.

The teenagers who use the services of the Door often lack the opportunities and educational foundations that we take for granted. It’s hard to understand what it’s like for the teenagers at the Door because I’ve never experienced poverty and enjoy educational privileges that are not available to them.  In my own life, I’m able to give my full attention to my schoolwork because I come back every day to a room that’s my own and dinner cooked by my mom. In many cases, the teenagers at The Door are so focused on daily survival that they don’t have time to complete their education or work towards a career. During my visit to The Door, I was reminded of what life is like outside the private school bubble and my own relatively carefree life.

I think that incorporating the YPI initiative into our coursework helped me to appreciate that teenagers living in the City sometimes have very different opportunities then I do. It helped me understand my own privileges and made me want to effect change in the lives of others.  The YPI initiative has allowed me to think about my own role as a responsible citizen and how I can be an effective contributor to my community. I hope that someday I can return as a volunteer to The Door and help the teenagers get a better chance in life.