Friday, March 25, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Today we continued working at the NW Boys and Girls Club. The Kent Plus group finally got to work outside under the beautiful Miami sun. Some of us painted cubbies and book shelves while others worked on their carpentry skills building benches. Today's work was a clear indicator of the tremendous strides our entire ASB Miami group has made working along side City Year for just three days. It truly staggers the mind when we came to the realization of how much people can accomplish in their charity efforts. Especially when their diligent organization and overwhelming sense of group dedication and motivation is as evident as it is in this group of volunteers.
Later in the day, we spent our last afternoon with the children at the Kline Unit of the Boys and Girls Club. It was a very bittersweet goodbye but many of the volunteers developed meaningful relationships with some of the children. We may even have the opportunity to continue communication through a Pen Pal system! Whether we helped/talked to a kid for 5 minutes or an hour, we truly believe we've made a difference in their lives and each of us has learned something from interacting with every child.
Group discussion for tonight was particularly touching for the people in our group because we talked about privilege and the ladder of charity. We took a survey that evaluated the level of privilege in our lives. We also discussed varying definitions of privilege and how accurate they were for specific contexts in addition to how they can be applied to our everyday lives after this trip. It was a good time for personal reflection about gratitude and realizing how people who are more privileged in life should always pay it forward.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
As the years went on we learned more and more about ways we can help the world through "tikkun olam" and always connected it to our Jewish roots.
As we find ourselves in a community of fewer resources than many of us are used to, we feel pride in being surrounded by so many amazing people who grew up with the same Jewish values.
Today, as well as the last few days, have been filled with numerous moments, both touching and enlightening. In the mornings, we've been working at the Northwest Boys and Girls Club. We've talked about how it takes a community to raise a child and here we see first-hand a community coming together to makes things better for hundreds of children.
Our group continued a project that a different group had started yesterday. We traced inspirational quotes as well as motivational signs on about 20 canvases. the quotes included, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress" by Frederick Douglass and "Reach for the moon. Even if you miss you'll land amongst the stars."
These quotes will be something that children can look at everyday for years to come and hopefully, can encourage them to continue their love of learning and always keep a positive attitude when it comes to school.
Before dinner, we were fortunate enough to get the opportunity to listen to Rabbi Feldman, a Rabbi from Palm Springs, come to speak to us about how our week relates to Judaism. Among the amazing concepts he spoke to us about, one that stood out to us was the fact that word Hebrew translates to mean the word alternative (as in alternative spring break).
This connected us back to our Jewish values that we learned when we were little and really helped us connect the work we're doing and relive the lesson we've been learning all along -- Tzedakah!
Ashley Abramowicz and Rachel Segal
The rest of our trip so far has been about creating a positive environment and keeping a good energy and the visiting. So far, we have enjoyed everything, but our favorite part has been working with the children. Getting to actually meet the people in the community that we were working for was motivating and a lot of fun. Even in such a short time, a lot of the kids bonded with the Hillel students.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
After eating a brief lunch we moved to Palms Elementary School to assist them in their after school program. We enjoyed helping students with their homework, playing outside sports and talking with them and learning about their backgrounds. I connected with a young girl who wanted to play a different game. We got a huge group of students and volunteers together and played a big game of kickball. The students were so enthusiastic about the game and were commenting on how they have never played so long because it was never this fun. They all were so positive and happy to be playing. What I loved was the fact that they all had really great attitudes even though the team I was on was losing badly.
Other volunteers learned things from the elementary school students such as step dance moves and new games. After spending a few hours at the school we went to have another great dinner at Hillel where we had some yummy tacos. We also had a guest speaker who talked about public education in the state of California. We then broke into campus groups and the Michigan State students had a great discussion reflecting on our great experiences so far. We had a great time working with the kids and doing service and we cannot wait to finish our projects and play with the kids more this week!
The day began with our now ritual physical training, surplus water, and sunscreen. The biggest obstacle of our day could have easily been the harsh California heat, rising to around 75 degrees. Although, there was some physical and mental exhaustion the team was able to overcome it with positive attitudes, teamwork, and great conversation. Many of us were able to become a little closer to the city year staff and got a really great inside look on the great organization that planned our trip. As we came closer to finishing the second half of our day we finally able to see some finished products of our hard work. It’s only our second day working on our projects, but they already look great and we feel so proud of our hard work.
The afternoon spent with the kids in the after school program gave us a really fun break. Many of the kids remembered our names and faces and couldn’t wait for us to start playing games with them. It’s really exciting to see all of the relationships that have already formed between the kids and the volunteers, but also scary to think of only having one more day together.
As we filled on the bus to head back there was a lot of excitement for the upcoming night in Santa Monica. We all enjoyed shopping, good meals, and some therapeutic beach time. As a group we all had a great time star gazing, feeling the ocean, and getting to know each other better. To wrap the night up, a few of us grabbed some food at IN IN OUT, the most popular fast food chain in Cali, and made aware of the seriousness of Jay- walking. It’s been an amazing time with a nice mix of service and sightseeing, and I look forward to another great day tomorrow.
Then, during lunch we had a closing ceremony that wrapped up the entire week. City year and Hillel leaders spoke and thanked the entire 100 college students for the work they put in this week. Also, the principal of Nora Sterry spoke to us about how appreciative she, her staff and all of her kids were for what we did to improve their school. We then were apart of the kid’s fire drill towards the end lunch. There, some of the kids came up to the microphone and spoke to us and thank us for the work that we did. It was great to see how their smiles and hear how happy they were that we did this for them.
At the end of the day we headed back to the hotel to get ready for Shabbat. We met up in the lobby of the hotel and headed to Hillel with everyone for services and dinner. We were able to choose between services or discussions that were being held over topics that related to our work this week. During dinner, we were able to meet tons of Jewish students from UCLA and talk to them about our experiences over the past week. After dinner we split up into different groups and had a boundary breaking activity where we learned a lot about other people on the trip. This was a very good way to end the night and close off the week as we entered into Shabbat.
Our first speaker, Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, talked about the trip, and asked whether students thought it was a service trip or a learning trip. A majority of students were quick to shout that it was strictly a service trip, but I'm sure if you asked those same students today, their answers would be different.
What is the goal of 4 days of service work in a new environment?
Is the goal to improve the schools and leave a lasting impression on the students we've helped?
Are we doing more harm then help in becoming role models for young kids and then disappearing on a whim?
Is it more beneficial to donate the trips cost to LA schools, which would allow them to afford many more tangible supplies than we created in a weeks worth of time?
These are all questions that we struggled with and discussed throughout the week. Questions that left us overwhelmed, exhausted, inspired, open-minded, and FIRED UP (as the City Year members would say). While I can't speak for anyone but myself, I'd say that after a week of service, it is clear that the service City Year puts together has little to do with the direct effect our work has on the LA community or its students, but to the participants themselves.
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WHEN YOU GET HOME?
The afterschool program we participated in at Palms Elementary, stationed in West LA doesn't seem like such an impoverish neighborhood. But when you hear from their principal, who tells you that 84% of their students families live below the poverty line, and 99% of their students live in apartments, some with more than 6 siblings, it brings everything into perspective. The program we worked with, funded by the city of LA for families that can't afford after-school care, employs ONE WOMAN for 60 STUDENTS. 60!
First grade Brandon, whom I helped with his math homework, and couldn't quite grasp the idea of counting by ones, is an anomaly for inner city students across the country. He told me "the police took away his Mom's car," and has to ride 2 buses to pick him up from school. With over-sized classrooms, 3 hours round-trip travel time to and from school, and no after school homework help, how is Brandon supposed to learn?
For kids like Brandon who may never receive one-on-one attention, the effects of our time at Palms Elementary may be insurmountable. As we stood outside during a fire drill on Friday afternoon, Principal Smith had students come to the microphone and explain which of our projects they were most thankful for. As the kids showed their gratitude one by one, it became more difficult for many that spent their Spring Break doing service to refrain from tears (maybe myself included). It is not only the students that we worked to make a difference for last week, but the idea that their are kids like this no matter what community you live in.
The message that I took from this week is that their is hope, but not without us. A week of service cannot end when we step onto the plane to Detroit, because there are thousands of Brandon's across the country, in every community, of every state. After spending the week with an amazing group of motivating, thought-provoking individuals, privileged with the power to make a difference in the world,it left me with one closing thought that a teacher from an LA Charter School told us earlier in the week, "The happiest people are doing the things they love the most."
Follow what you are most passionate about, whether it's health-care, human rights, or education, and we can all make a difference.
So, what are you going to do next?
MSU Hillel Program Associate
Monday, March 21, 2011
Published in The State News on March 13, 2011
For a long time I’ve considered myself a pessimist or cynic — capable of seeing the problems in life and providing negative criticism, but struggling with finding real solutions.
When it comes to educational reform and providing effective education for all public school students in the U.S. — specifically low-income students in poor schools — it’s easy to point out what’s wrong, but difficult to figure out exactly how to fix it.
Even when solutions are proposed, it’s much easier to doubt their effectiveness and question results than actually try them out.
During spring break, I had the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles with MSU Hillel (alongside Hillel groups from other universities across Michigan and the U.S.) to volunteer in low-income elementary schools in a partnership with City Year’s Los Angeles Service Corps and Care Force.
During the program, I was able to get first-hand experience with a few potential solutions to education problems. My pessimistic ideology began to crack.
My fellow volunteers and I spent our mornings working on construction and painting projects to improve and beautify the schools. We spent our afternoons hanging out with at-risk students at another elementary school.
We organized pickup games of soccer, kickball and four square.
We tutored them in math and spelling while giving them someone to talk to as well as encouraged them to believe in both themselves and education.
Group discussions and guest speakers were interspersed throughout the week to keep us thinking about the effectiveness of our work as well as various perspectives on the problems facing American public schools.
A quick glance at the issue of effective public education allows us to conclude there usually isn’t enough money for each student, that their lives at home might be unstable and their parents or social environments are unsupportive of educational achievement.
The solutions to these problems usually either are unrealistic or unproven, and as one of the speakers during our program was keen to point out, there is no “silver bullet” to cure all education ills.
At the beginning of the trip, I doubted our work truly had value. However, the more I interacted with the kids, the more I came to see what I was doing really did have an effect.
The kids at the first school always enthusiastically ran up to us, asking what we were doing. They were excited to have us there, building colorful picnic tables, painting murals on the walls and simply chatting about what was going on in their lives. At our afternoon sessions, things ran deeper than just a kickball game — we came to know and care for the kids in just three days’ time.
After our first day working on the playground, I had met three amazing students whom I couldn’t wait to come back to see the next day.
One wanted to be a veterinarian; one a soccer player and another simply said he wanted to be smart like us.
When our time with them ended each day, they would breathlessly ask us if we were coming back the next day to play and talk again. They loved having us there, and we loved being there.
It was heartbreaking to tell them on our final day that we weren’t coming back. It was in their sadness at seeing us go that I truly understood how much of an effect our short time had on them.
Our brief sessions of individual interaction and encouragement had made some kind of positive impression on these kids and it could be seen in their eyes.
I don’t think this kind of personal investment by well-intentioned volunteers is the one and only solution to solving the issue of underachievement in low-income schools.
But my amazing trip showed me I am very capable of making even the slightest difference if only I am willing to sacrifice some of my time and donate it to helping those who are less fortunate than me.
It was a positive lesson that I will not soon forget.
Michigan State University
Terrified…Lost…Enthusiastic…Motivated...These are only a few emotions that can begin to describe how some of us ASB’ers are feeling. This trip has been taken to a whole new level, and it’s safe to say I think some of us are even at a loss of words. As I’m sitting here reflecting upon this overall experience, and our last day with the children at Palms Elementary school, I really am having trouble…It’s difficult to verbalize all of the thoughts and emotions encompassing my brain. I have never, since the day I’ve wanted to be an educator, experienced the emotions I felt yesterday. Some often say that “goodbye” isn’t forever, and with these children I’d like to say it isn’t for me. But as we hugged our kids, turned our backs from names being screamed, and wiped the streaming tears off of our cheek, one can’t help but feel that forever, is forever. I know, along with each and every person on this trip, that the service we have done for these children, and this community the past week, has left an imprint. Some of those kids did not want to say bye to us, and probably couldn’t fathom the fact that we would never be back again. But the question is, what do we do now? We’ve volunteered with these inner-city schools for 4 days, and made a world of a difference. Now, the future is in our hands. We’ve seen how poorly run these schools are, and the lacking beauty of the school’s appearance. From the picnic tables we worked our butts off to create, to the beautiful murals we painted on the walls, these schools have already been transformed. As we sat there on Thursday saying goodbye to the kids, and stood there Friday looking out to all of the beautiful work we created, there were no words. That final day of service almost made me feel like I was hit by a truck; I was lost and confused, yet extremely motivated and FIRED UP! It’s our job as not only future educators, but humans in this world, to create what’s next to come. Together, we need to do something that will make a difference for forever. After all, ASBers, haven’t we learned that together is better than alone?
Grand Valley State University