Pre-College Programs

Helping under-privileged children in New York

From the Leadership Institute Symposium on Social Change

Author: Maya Street-Sachs

My action plan addresses under-privileged children living in NYC mostly in lower-income housing who go to schools that might not have very many supplies for art or may not do art at all. Some of these kids may come from households filled with drugs and abuse. It addresses the problem that many young children do not have a safe place to go and express themselves during their free time after school, and are thus, left to the often dangerous streets of New York City.

To address these problems I have volunteered all year at an organization called Free Arts NYC every week for three hours during this school year. This is education as well as direct action. Along with three other volunteers, I meet with the same twelve kids ages 6-9 each week and teach them about different artists, artistic techniques and themes. Then using what they learned, the children are able to use all of our many materials to make their own art! Not only to these projects use countless materials but they often comment on society, family, and community, allowing kids to comment on their lives in a pressure-free zone. Each student then takes home their artwork after the session.

My Action plan started out quite differently initially. I came out of the Brown Leadership Program planning on starting my own program for doing art with under-privileged kids in a local soup kitchen. However, when I went to the soup kitchen and introduced them to my ideas, they were anything but willing to take on such a large program run by a high school student. Understandably. However, this made me realize that I would be making the same impact on kids, by volunteering on a regular basis at an already developed organization. After much research I was able to find Free Arts NYC. I went through the application process, interview, and training session and soon found myself at the Union Settlement in Harlem, Manhattan ready to do art with twelve little kids. I have now been volunteering since about October and absolutely love it.

As of now, I would say that I am the only one participating in my Action Plan. However, the other volunteers that I work with are essential in creating the safe but also fun environment that we are able to have at Free Arts. An environment like this is necessary in changing the lives of these children.

In the future, once I have gained a little bit more knowledge and experience, I do want to try to start a branch of Free Arts NYC in my neighborhood. I do feel that my community is lacking a free place for young children to go and feel safe while expressing themselves, being creative, and learning about art. In order to do this I will talk to the founder of Free Arts NYC and start off by saying why I think a new branch is necessary in this location, and that I am willing and able to be the leader in make it actually happen. I will then find other volunteers (maybe the ones I work with now), a location to do it in (a school, YMCA, community center, church) and can then hopefully get started!

I think that my volunteering at the location in Harlem really has affected those twelve kids. Because it is the same kids every single week, I really feel that we have all created such a tight bond, and that we all care for each other and want each other to succeed. It is important for these children to know that someone believes in them and myself, and the other volunteers have become that someone.

What has motivated me to travel completely out of my way every Wednesday after school is how much I love what I am doing. I look forward to seeing the kids, to working with the volunteers, hearing the funny conversations 6-9 year olds have, learning about new types of art, and being creative myself! From this experience I have realized that in the future I want to either start my own organization that helps under-privileged kids or work at an organization that already exists.

The Symposium didn’t really affect my work, however it was extremely interesting to learn about other students’ Action Plans and what processes they went to.

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