For the last four years I’ve lived as a college student in New York City. I knew I wanted to spend my last summer here exploring and appreciating this crazy, vibrant, unexpected city. The place and the people constantly surprise and challenge me, whether it’s hearing the story of a tutee who immigrated from Somalia or discovering that there are amazing sandwiches at that cart if only I’m brave enough to ask in Spanish. What I didn’t know until only a few weeks ago was that I would be spending the summer exploring the city by foot and sweat, building a team to serve the local parks. As an SCA crew leader this summer, I will have the opportunity to spend a week leading the “AE Donates. You Decide” Sandy Recovery crew, and then spend much of July and August doing similar work with local community crews. I will get to spend the summer on the beaches and in the parks of my adopted home, working with co-leaders and teaching practical conservation skills to students and volunteers.
I’ve worked in conservation before – last summer I was a community crew leader in Boston, also with SCA. And I’ve worked with youth before – as a mentor and tutor, and leading trips in the wilderness the two summers before that. But this is the first time I’ll be bringing my passions for conservation and teaching home with me. I’m excited and curious to see where this combination will lead.
Already I’ve been surprised by the work this summer. At the Sandy kickoff event on May 30th I was reminded how much of New York I have left to explore. I left my Manhattan apartment early on the 30th to ride the subway all the way to the end of the line in southeastern Brooklyn. Even though the day was just getting started, I could already feel the humidity rising and the heat coming up through the concrete and into my work boots. In Brooklyn I met up with other blue-shirted SCA members and we shuttled out to Jacob Riis Beach for the Sandy Recovery kick-off event. On the way, one returning crew member pointed out places where she had worked last summer that were now covered in debris and struggling plant life, the after-effects of the hurricane surprisingly apparent almost eight months later.
It was strange for me to see evidence of how protected I was from most of the damage while living just an easy subway ride from these spots. Despite living in the same city, I had a relatively sheltered experience of the hurricane – I was able to get back to school a few days after the storm passed, while here on the beach there were still piles of sand covering steps hundreds of feet from the water. We put in a good day of work with our crew, but it’s incredible to think how much is left to do at that beach and all over the public lands in NYC. My comfort was remembering what I learned working with SCA last summer, and thinking about all the possibilities of what we could accomplish this year.
In Boston last summer I fell in love with the SCA program. The other crew leaders were fun, the students were inspiring, and I felt empowered by the hands-on work and the mission of service. Working as a team we accomplished an incredible amount of work in a very short time. Most importantly, though, I learned that by working with my hands to transform the land, I could move beyond feeling like a visitor, awed by my surroundings, and instead feel like I truly belonged on that public land. There was the trail our team built. There was the garden we planted. There was the spot where we came up with a group name. That park suddenly felt like home.
This year, in New York, I am excited to give back to a place that has helped me grow over the past four years. I’m also looking forward to creating a family with my new team, finding out who they are, why they’ve chosen to do this work, and what they will teach each other. Most of all, I’m looking forward to serving all the people for whom the New York Harbor area really is home… and maybe coming to feel that it is mine as well.
Project Location: Jamaica Bay