Nick’s experience at the First Presbyterian Homeless Shelter

Over the past four years, I have worked extensively with the homeless shelter at the First Presbyterian Church on Fifth Avenue and 12th street.  I have volunteered in a number of roles, from helping set up the beds before the night to organizing other youth volunteers.  Last weekend, I volunteered for the last time as a high school student.  The homeless shelter season just ended, so my job was to take stock of what the shelter had, and what it needs for the new season this fall.  This meant taking out all of the beds, linens, and stock items.  I wiped down all of the beds and pillows, and decided whether or not they needed to order new ones.  In addition, I cleaned out the stock closet.  My time volunteering with the First Presbyterian Church homeless shelter has been very rewarding.  I have volunteered there even before high school, so volunteering with them comes very easy.  I always have fun, and I look forward to volunteering there in the future.

Click here to learn more about the Church and their homeless shelter.

Altana’s South Africa Reflection

Many of my friends, when I told them I was going to South Africa, had responses that varied somewhat along the lines of “Oh, another white girl going to South Africa to ‘help’ the children.” Although this was in jest, “voluntourism” experiences like that happen all the time. However, this trip was not voluntourism and every member of it consciously made sure of that. The goals of the trip were to learn about the effects of apartheid and the history of South Africa, as well as sustainable development and responsible tourism. Additionally, my personal goals for the trip were to get out of my comfort zone and do my best to remain mindful.  I definitely did these things in my time in South Africa. I can’t possibly choose between all of my meaningful experiences there without writing a short novel, so I will just write about one.


One of the most rewarding and most difficult experiences was our outreach work with the church in a township in Port Elizabeth. We were split up into groups and each group walked out to a site to bring food supplies and offer prayer in the form of song to a sick member of the community. My group went to the house of an important man in the church who became too sick to attend services. Everyone crowded into his small home and sang beautiful, melodic songs that moved the man (and everyone in the room) deeply. Essentially, the service was brought to him.I really saw how strong the community was and how they were able to lift each other up. Next, all the groups met up and we all went into an elderly sick woman’s home. I didn’t think we would all fit (there were probably over a hundred people) but the home was packed to the gills and surrounded by people. I was very close to the sick woman, at the center and I saw how she was moved to tears by the singing. I shook her hand before leaving (as we all did) and I really saw how the community treated everyone as equals and how everyone cared so heavily for each other. I am not a religious person and the situation was very difficult due to how intense it was, but I found it so beautiful. Learning to live with one’s own discomfort is the key to escaping one’s comfort zone and, for me, it allowed me to grow as a person.


There’s really no way for me to encapsulate how much this trip meant to me, except to say that it was life changing. That is not an overstatement, as it deeply affected how I view social justice, politics, racial issues, sustainable development, and privilege. I am so thankful for the experience.


Members of the church community walking down the street and singing.

Members of the church community walking down the street and singing.

The first home we went into, belonging to the elderly man who could no longer make it to church.

The first home we went into, belonging to the elderly man who could no longer make it to church.

Altana’s Ex Ed Leadership Reflection

We headed up to Norrie State Park on Friday to set up camp and get out on the water in our kayaks, as well as play some games as a group. Saturday morning was somewhat of waiting game due to the rain but spirits stayed high and we got to explore a beautiful tributary of the Hudson River. By Sunday, after one last paddle, it was time to pack up camp and head back to NYC. Throughout the trip there were games and great conversation, which lead to a strong group dynamic both among the students and among the students and instructor team. My favorite part was watching this group development. I really enjoyed the trip; it was great to get out and paddle on the Hudson, and getting to a do so as a student leader was especially rewarding. The most surprising aspect of being a leader was how important it is to have backups in whatever plans one makes, because it’s difficult to predict how quickly people will move through an activity. Giles and I should have planned more games because the 10th graders moved through them very quickly, although it did end up working out. I used a variety of leadership styles throughout the trip, from being more authoritative to letting the students figure out the best way to do something for themselves. My favorite moments were not when me or Giles told the 10th graders what to do, but when they helped each other and learned from one another. This type of peer leadership is the kind that, I believe, leads to the most growth. However, in moments when time is of the essence or there are very specific instructions, it was better to be authoritarian (although it is definitely in my leadership philosophy to keep it to a minimum). For instance, on the night hike, it was better to give the students specific instructions instead of let them figure out what to do on their own, since it allowed to the group to enjoy the activity. I think one of my strengths as a leader was simply being aware of the limits of my own expertise and knowing that it is okay for students and instructors to figure things out together. Also, I think I did a good job of understanding that an activity that is easy for me might be difficult for someone else, recognizing those moments, and helping accordingly without being condescending. In the future, I could be more thorough in planning and also more assertive in times when I needed to give instructions. Overall, I wouldn’t have changed anything about my leadership on the trip or about the trip in general (even the rain!). I felt very well prepared and it was great to test out my leadership skills. 



10th Grade Backpacking Trip

I went on the 10th grade backpacking trip. We travelled to Harriman State park by train. Once we got there we started hiking around noon. The first day was pretty hard with a lot of steep hills. It was also a pretty far distance. We arrived at our hiking shelter around 5 pm. The next day we hiked to a lake and then to our next hiking shelter. It was a very leisurely hike and extremely pretty. We had lunch by the lake and a meeting for worship (which was one of the highlights of my trip). However, once we got to the hiking shelter, it was already occupied. We knew it was going to rain that night and so as a group we had to make difficult decisions about where everyone was going to sleep (more to come on that later). The next day we woke up early in order to hike out and catch the 9:15 train. We were able to catch the early train, which everyone was very happy about. We then returned to Friends and unpacked.

I really enjoyed the trip. I felt I learned a lot. I came into the trip expecting to have a terrible time. However, I ended up really liking all the kids on the trip and interacting with them a lot. However, since I was taking the role of a leader and this was their time to bond as a 10th grade ExEd group, I tried not to force myself into conversations too much.

One thing that I did not think about when thinking about my leadership style is what do you do when somebody in the group has to do something that nobody wants to do. I tried to help out by carrying a lot of group gear and cleaning up a lot. However, my true test came the night we did not have a hiking shelter to sleep in. Deanna and Jack presented us with 3 options: hike all the way back to the previous hiking shelter, have a short hike to a large rock outcropping where we could be somewhat sheltered, stay where we were and divide the two tents and the tarp that we had among everyone. The group chose the last option. This option meant that Deanna and Jack would have to sleep outside, the three boys would get a tent, four of the girls would get a tent, and two of the girls would get a tent. This also meant that it looked like one more person would have to sleep outside. I felt that it was my job as a leader to do this. Ultimately, there was room for me under the tarp. However, even though I avoided sleeping outside in the rain, Jack and Deanna did not. I learned that being a leader (to me) means putting yourself in uncomfortable positions when unexpected issues arise. This is something I definitely want to add to my leadership statement.

In my leadership statement I included that I wanted to play a lot of games. We did not play any of the games that I was prepared to play. However, Jack and Deanna had given me movie quotes, and the second night at dinner I made up a guessing game with the movie quotes. I was really happy that everyone got involved. I then also suggested we play a game where someone throws out a word and you think of a song lyric that has that word. Everyone seemed to be having fun and this was a moment where I was proud of my leadership skills.

When looking at my leadership document now I am proud of how I acted. However my first statement was “do not judge”. I definitely judged the people on my trip before I went on it. Luckily I was wrong and they were amazing. This showed me that “do not judge” is an important part of my educational philosophy and I should try and enact it better when I am in group settings.  Since I had never been backpacking before, this allowed me not to be controlling or bossy because I did not know anything about our trip. However, I know that this is something I have to avoid when I go on a trip in which I am already adept at the skills needed for the trip.


in the tarp

in the tarp

Scott Leff In South Africa

I was selected to go on the Global Ed trip to South Africa this year. The trip truly changed my life. South Africa is a country that comes from a rough and complicated history. When Vasco De Gamma rounded the cape of good hope, he stopped his ship off in what is now Cape Town. The members of the Cosa Tribe saw these white people and believed that they were their ancestors so they welcomed them with open arms, and so began a history of exploitation. Part of the Cosa coming of age rituals is that when a boy turns 14 or 15, but some do it as late as 21, they go into the bush and get circumcised. They cover themselves in white clay as to make themselves unrecognizable to their ancestors and bond with their fellow members in the bush. Cosa rituals really focus around ones relationship with the ancestors, so when the white people came the Cosa people thought that they were the ghosts of their dead relatives and welcomed them with feats and gifts.

Later when the Dutch East India company was founded, South Africa became the perfect refueling spot for ships to re stock on their way to India. Since the company needed to build in South Africa, and it is incredibly difficult to enslave indigenous people in their home land when there is only a small number of white people, the company began to import slaves from Malaysia to build trading centers. Later dutch people began to move into South Africa and so began the beginnings of the apartheid system. Apartheid is built on the backs of Nazi ideology. If we forcibly separate the race groups than oppression becomes significantly easier.

The wealth gap is incredibly visible in South Africa, even within the townships. When we were in Langa, a township between Cape Town and the air port, one side of the road had two story homes with luxury cars parked in the drive ways, while there were shacks made of corrugated zinc across on the other.

On the Monday after Easter, we paired up with a local Methodist church to assist their youth in their usual service activities. We split int groups and went into the homes of some of the elders in their community. They were homebound, so we brought them large amounts of food so the people living with them would have food to cook with, and then we conducted a church service inside of their home. This was incredibly powerful. The community recognized that aging is not an easy process after a certain bench mark, and went out of their way to ease the burden. The community went beyond helping the physical burden of the aged, but they made an effort to assist their spiritual needs by praying with them.

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Nick’s Service Day

For service day, my advisory went to the common pantry on 109th street.  The common pantry is a local food bank that provides its community with a plethora of food assistance options.  They have weekly hot meal plans, as well as a grocery plan that provides its community members with fresh produce.  We arrived at the food pantry on a day that had major a major delivery.  We took in a lot of boxes of various food items and sorted it in their warehouse.  We then sorted bags of fruit to be given to community members in need.  At the common pantry, we learned about the hunger problem that is prevalent in our own city.  Creating awareness for this problem is the first step to solving hunger in the city.

Scott’s Reflection on DRA

This year’s dancers responding to aids concert was different than any other I have taken a part of. I really enjoyed the process that I went through to create work for this concert because it was so much more involved than I have ever been. Up until this year, I identified as a dancer, but after this concert I identify as a dancer-choreographer. The process of creating work was amazing and unique and allowed me to be creative in a way that i never have before. Dance is a medium in which you can make a statement without saying a word. There is no guarantee that your audience will understand your statement, but that does not stop dancers and choreographers from making their statements. We go out onto the stage to try and tell a story or talk about an idea because it propels us to move others.

Knowing that the proceeds of the event went to people living with aids, made the concert all the more meaningful. The aids epidemic ravaged this country in a way that very few other events have, and that loss was especially felt in the artistic communities. Being able to raise money for people living with this terrible disease, makes me feel as though I have given back to a community that has already given me so much. This year’s Dancers Responding To Aids concert was especially meaningful because of the people we were able to help, and the opportunity I was given to create.