Today's guest blogger is Badhaftu Kadir, an AmeriCorps Member at PS 130x in the Bronx.
With over 700 community, alumni and corporate volunteers excited to have a meaningful day of service the stage was set for transformation at PS 55x Benjamin Franklin. Located in the South Bronx, PS 55x is in its first year partnering with City Year, yet Principal Torres invited volunteers in with open arms. The opening ceremony began with the school's amazing step team and a performance piece that was a mix of step and storytelling and did a wonderful job at honoring the legacy of Dr. King.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Following the step team’s performance, five AmeriCorps Members took the stage and read a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While they all had different ways of connecting their service to the quote they all spoke from a special place and fit into the story the step team had already begun to weave. Afterwards the Secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew, said a few words about the importance of service and the way in which it builds a sense of community. Mr. Lew has been a long-term supporter of City Year and served as our founding board chair in 2002. As the program came to an end, Principal Torres surprised volunteers with a performance from the school chorus and the singing of the PS 55x song – an act that certainly motivated volunteers as they exited the auditorium, ready to start their day.
Service was broken up into the four floors of the school with a multitude of projects going on. The fourth floor housed murals that were centered around Bronx culture and captured the many sights and wonders that make the Bronx such a special place to live and work. Moving down to the third floor you were greeted with murals of Hip Hop heroes such as Jay Z, Nas, Jennifer Lopez and Biggie Smalls. (Hip Hop is an art form that was started in the South Bronx when a DJ Kool Herc accidentally scratched a record at a house party, which sparked one of the largest artistic movements of our time.) Greg Valdivia, an AmeriCorps Member who serves at PS 48x, mentioned that he wished his elementary school contained murals like these that depicted positive hip hop role models. He added that, as a student of hip hop, a different environment would have allowed him a deeper connection to his school and his schoolwork. One flight down on the second floor you could find a budding rainforest which wrapped the entirety of the halls. From toucans to leopards, one felt transported to the likes of the Amazon.
While many consider national holidays like MLK Day a day off, City Year prides itself in it being a “day on” for service. While many agree with this idea, it seems hard to believe middle school students would pass up on a day off of school, but as I walked through the first floor I found a group of middle school students excited and chatting as they painted. John, a student from the Bronx, said he already considers himself a “part of City Year” and wanted to give back to another school in the borough he calls home.
On the first floor there were an array of projects buzzing. At one end of the hall you had volunteers constructing wooden benches and garden boxes. In the cafeteria there was community resource fair where a myriad of organizations that serve the Bronx community hosted booths, handing out resources and information on their services. On the other end of the hall youth volunteers packed and organized packages and kits that would be sent out to other community organizations in the area. One group crafted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a homeless shelter while another created activity kits to send to Project Sunshine, a non-profit that provides programs to children and families that require medical care. Overall the space was filled with youth volunteers who understood the importance of their work and were excited to be giving back.
Evin Marquez, an AmeriCorps Member at PS 55x, said that he was extremely thankful for all of the hardworking youth volunteers and noted that their service would help to transform the school culture and further capitalize on the change City Year started in September.
The day seemed to fly by fast and before you knew it, closing ceremony was upon us. Vice President and Executive Director, Erica Hamilton addressed volunteers with touching words and appreciation for the work we had completed. Shatrieka Smith, the City Year Program Manager at PS 55x closed out the day by asking for “ripples and joys” from volunteers. Not only did many people from the site speak but volunteers and alumni from as far as City Year Miami spoke, reminding us that the work we do is larger than ourselves.
Thanks to all of our hardworking volunteers, the administration, staff and City Year team at PS 55x, as well as Credit Suisse and all of our generous sponsors for making MLK Day of Service 2015 possible!