Volunteering with New York Cares!

Want to make a difference in New York?

by Mariah Castillo

Over Election Day Weekend, I didn’t go back to Connecticut to vote. Yes, you can all yell at me now…

So while I neglected one civic duty, I took part in another: giving back to the community!

I signed up for a project run by New York Cares, an organization that creates and facilitates community service and volunteering opportunities through out New York City. After attending an orientation session, you have access to community service programs in all five boroughs. Some activities require a time commitment (like weekly tutoring sessions) or need you to spend some money for things other than transportation (for example, if you’ve signed up to join a field trip to a museum you’re going to pay for your ticket). However, there are plenty of activities that are flexible to your schedule and budget.

I personally have not done any activities that required me to spend more than a round trip MetroCard, and I didn’t feel like I was missing out. Last spring, I volunteered at PS 150Q in Sunnyside, Queens at a weekly reading session with kindergarten students. The program I volunteered at last Friday happened to be in that same elementary school. This time, the program was geared towards fourth and fifth grade students. I worked with a team leader, and two other volunteers, who were all older than me. Despite the age difference the atmosphere was very relaxed, and we were all on great terms by the end of the session.

We helped the students who were members of the Cooking Club at the school to realize that it’s easy to eat healthy. We helped them to make spiders out of crackers, cream cheese, raisins, and pretzels. Some kids got creative with their snacks; one boy was making a building that we dubbed, “The Leaning Tower of Cream Cheese.” A few students asked me if I spoke Pig Latin, and were shocked when I answered to them in a language I haven’t spoken since middle school–and boy, did I feel old! I got to know the kids well because they seemed to open up to me more than the other volunteers–save for the team leader who’s been there since Day 1. Probably because I was the youngest of the volunteers.

I will definitely be signing up for this program again! Hopefully, if this project runs into the spring, I will have my Fridays free to keep participating. Volunteering is my kind of stress-busting. The New York Cares program is so flexible that maybe it can be yours, too!

Mariah Castillo is a sophomore at Barnard and the Food and New York Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of A&H Magazine.

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