In late January, Green Vale’s entire 8th Grade participated in a 24-hour immersive service program through the New York City-based YSOP organization.
YSOP is a nationally recognized leader in providing high-quality service-learning experiences in metropolitan areas. These innovative programs combine education on the issues underlying the problem or need, hands-on volunteer work and reflection. By bookending the service experience with orientation and reflection, YSOP is highly effective in broadening participants' perspectives and level of engagement long after the work is complete.
This experience is also an opportunity to deepen student-faculty relationships, as teachers also volunteer to participate alongside the students in small groups. Cathy Iannotta, Mike Mattia, Karenn Ressa, Julie Rooney, Anne Sarfati, Cami Gallagher, Rich Quinlan, and Peter Zaloom all accompanied the 8th Graders for the duration of the program.
This year, students arrived at the Quaker Meeting House near Union Square in NYC on a Thursday afternoon. After an orientation on hunger and homelessness in urban settings, the group went to work preparing dinner for a group of women living in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. Working in small groups, the students quite capably prepared chili, mashed potatoes, coleslaw, brownies, and ice cream. The teachers were impressed with the skill and independence displayed through prep, cooking, and clean-up.
When it came time to serve, the 8th Graders welcomed the women and comfortably engaged them in conversation throughout the meal and proceeded to play board games afterwards. Again, the Green Vale students showed maturity and compassion without coaching or instruction.
That evening, the girls and female teachers slept on the floor of the Meeting House choir loft while the male teachers and 8th Grade boys arranged sleeping bags on the floor of the lower level.
The following morning, the Green Vale group split into seven groups. Each group traveled to different sites in the city: soup kitchens, food pantries, or other agencies who serve low-income, homeless or hungry populations. In addition to learning about the work of the particular entity and the issues facing the population it serves, the Green Vale groups performed tasks including packaging food in accordance with the size of each receiving family, unloading trucks, stocking refrigerators, and keeping track of items coming and going.
At the end of the day, everyone gathered at the Meeting House to report on their work and reflect on themes of work, service, and an appreciation for the permanent volunteers who run these organizations. More meaningful conversations emerged about the root causes and complicated definitions of “homeless” and “hunger”.
"Before going to YSOP I never thought about how terrible being homeless could be... I always thought it could be so easy to just get back up from whatever bad things happened. Although it may not be easy, I hope that all these people get back on their feet."
- Ariana Vitale
"Seeing what these children have to endure really helps put what I have in my life in perspective."
- Jamie Merrill