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March 7, 2013 / HandsOnCorps

Yours in Service…Sophia Smart

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Two years ago I took a life changing trip to volunteer in Larabanga, Ghana for almost 2 months and after that, knew that my next steps after graduation was going to be AmeriCorps. I was fortunate to meet an individual that spoke highly of AmeriCorps and I knew that it was a great step into the nonprofit/volunteerism field. Last January I began the process of applying for AmeriCorps NCCC and went as far as being placed on a waiting list. Somewhere in my stubborn mind, I thought that I could hold out in my position held in the Telecommunications department of my undergraduate institution until NCCC called. But my insatiable need for plan B, C & D got the best of me. I began randomly applying to VISTA positions all over the country “just in case” NCCC didn’t work out. June 2012 came around and I was one of the millions of postgraduates seeking their first fulltime “adult” position and I knew, statistically speaking, the odds where not leaning in my favor.
After a plethora of VISTA applications were not responded to, in desperation, I decided to apply to a position at New York Cares, never anticipating any response to the application and continuing to hold on to the NCCC possibility. My application to New York Cares, along with one other, was different from all others because it was located in my hometown of NYC. I spent the last 8 years in the widely unknown county of Rensselaer which is located 10 minutes outside of Albany, the capital of New York. I finished high school, completed two years of my undergraduate degree at a community college and then my final two years at the University at Albany. Through this process, I had resolved that I would move into a position somewhere out west until I felt I was ready and equipped to tackle graduate studies, hopefully somewhere in the U.K.
So when I received an email from my current supervisor Andrew at New York Cares that they were interested in having me join their team I was both surprised and a little hesitant. I knew little of New York Cares and it’s immense impact on the under resourced communities of New York City but my real hang up was that I would be moving back to the city I called home for most of my childhood and had written off as a place I would only visit on occasion but never to live again. The city is rich in history, opportunities and diversity and will always be my first home but its structure is too claustrophobic for my taste and does not have as much of the nature that I grew to love and appreciate in upstate New York.
I can truly say that I am blessed to work at such a great organization with passionate and giving individuals who share my drive for community enrichment. New York Cares offers possibilities to the most vulnerable communities and has taught me the varying degrees of volunteerism. Somehow my organization is able to organize and carry out almost 1,500 projects throughout the five boroughs monthly, at the core of which is the never ending dedication and compassion of our 57,000 active volunteers. My passion for the last 5 years has been exploring the power of volunteerism and I am proud to work for an organization that harnesses their leverage to improve communities where funding is likely at its lowest but the need for volunteers has only increased. I have found joy and growth in volunteering and starting adult education programs in communities that mirror my own childhood community of Springfield Gardens in Queens
Here I am, almost six months into my position and I can truly say I have made progress but it has been slow. My work consists of coordinating adult education programs running in four schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx and Queens. I work with parents and adult community members alike; creating programs centered around English as a second language learners, preparation for GED courses/exams and computer basics. Thankfully, all four of my schools have already started ongoing programming or will do so in the next couple of weeks. It is difficult to give quantitative analysis of my work because everything is in the beginning phase. However, I will say that all of the programming scheduled to start is rich in quality because they have been planned and implemented with attention to details and a great deal of organization. Sometimes I give time schedules too much credit and forget that strong self-sustaining communities are not built in a day and it may be years before the work done now manifests itself how I imagine it to be. Also, that progress by my standards is not necessarily mirrored in the community members I work with and ultimately this is their dream to carry through and not my own.
From the beginning, my position is to not only create programming but to also become part of the communities I work in and build a rapport with key stakeholders. This is an ongoing process which I know will take time and more hours of dedication from me. I know that when I leave this position in August, I not only want my programming to continue, but also for the relationships within the communities I have worked in to grow as well. I know that people may not remember my name or exactly what I said but I want them to never forget the work we accomplished together and most of all the work they are now able to accomplish themselves going forward. I am thankful for the experiences and the people I have met thus far and look forward to six more months of growth and enrichment.

Yours in Service,
Sophia Smart
“Be the change you wish to see”- Mohandas Gandhi


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