01 Jul

Monte Sinai Students Volunteer

Monte Sinai Student Volunteers

June 8, 2016 — Thirty high school students from the Monte Sinai High School near Mexico City, Mexico, came to LSA to learn about our work and to participate in activities with children in LSA programs. They toured the building and had a Q&A session with LSA Advocate, Pura Cruz.

The students brought art supplies and snacks with them and played games with the children.

The activity had a great impact on the high school students. One of the facilitators from the high school wrote:

It was an honor visiting you and having an activity with the kids.

Most of our high school students come from migrant families that arrived to Mexico in WWII.  They had never before thought about what it must have been like for their grandparents to have to move to another country, and most of all they did not understand the issues of poverty and immigration and were not aware how often it still happens today. It was definitely an eye opening experience for our students to learn about the struggles of Mexican immigrants in the United States.

The conclusions they gave at the end of the trip about Little Sisters and what they learned here were amazing. They said that they just learned about an entire different  reality of the  USA, NY and the world in general that they were not aware of previously.

They learned that sometimes just by playing with someone you can give so much.

At the end of the activity, the students very generously donated from their own pockets, and the total amount was $354.

We look forward to having students from Monte Sinai visit LSA again next summer!

28 Apr

Pantry Volunteer Helps Families Think Healthy

Gabriela Sanchez, Food Pantry Volunteer

Gabriela Sanchez, a recent Hunter College graduate, volunteers once a week in the LSA food pantry. She has always had an interest in nutrition and community health — volunteering at local health programs in college as well as various farmers’ markets. She currently works part-time and is a development intern for New York Cares and Slow Food USA where she helps with fundraising and outreach. Despite working and interning, Gabriela still somehow finds time to volunteer.

Having an aunt who worked at LSA for ten years, she thought that volunteering at LSA would be a great way to gain experience post-graduation. Gabriela said volunteering is a great way to obtain valuable work experience and knowledge about the community, as well as learn the inner-workings of an organization. She believes it is a “great stepping stone” for her career and an excellent way to directly contribute to the community. Working in an environment where every employee is “nice, smart and welcoming” encourages her to work harder. “Seeing people at LSA who have worked here for so long is inspiring — it’s great to see the camaraderie here.”

What is the best thing about volunteering at LSA? Gabriela paused and a huge smile covered her face from ear to ear. She responded simply, “It makes me feel really good.” Working at the food pantry every Wednesday, she does the heavy lifting, re-stocking, and often works non-stop for hours. However, she feels rewarded being able to see how many families and people they’ve served.

Although Gabriela only started volunteering in October of 2015, she has already begun two projects with a focus on nutrition and food advocacy. As a pantry volunteer she was able to see firsthand the severity of the nutritional and health issues facing members of the community.

Gabriela saw that clients were interested in learning better eating and shopping habits. She decided to reach out to a local branch of the nationwide program, Cooking Matters at the Store –a federally based program that provides materials and a curriculum to organizations to help them lead their own tours at supermarkets. Gabriela hopes to directly teach people in small groups the best practices and techniques when shopping for food. In these tours, leaders will teach various shopping skills, such as reading nutritional labels or determining the difference between fresh and canned foods. “I basically just want to teach people how to shop so they can get the best monetary and nutritional value.” She led a workshop in March with moms whose children are in the tutoring program. There will be another “Cooking Matters at the Store” workshop in May.

Her second project involves creating recipes using ingredients provided by the food pantry. She became curious as to what people really prepared with the food LSA provided every week. She began doing her own research — buying sandwiches and meals from local restaurants and stores and recreating them using affordable ingredients in her own home. Having little time herself, she believed that she had a good approach and perspective similar to the clients who had little resources and time to create nutritionally sound meals. After working closely with the Advocacy staff, Gabriela is kick starting this new project at LSA. She would like to use the ingredients found in LSA’s own pantry to create recipe cards that include nutritional values.

Gabriela believes the holistic approach has been vital to LSA’s success and is what makes it so successful and distinguishes it from other non-profit organizations. “LSA is a good model for other non-profit organizations” she said. “There should be more trustworthy organizations like LSA that focus on the most marginalized and disadvantaged groups.

Gabriela would like more people to know about LSA. She would like others to know about the  work LSA does, the range of services provided, its importance to the community.  She would like LSA to be known by everyone in New York and beyond, hoping that “when people hear East Harlem, I want them to think LSA and know the great work that they do.”

Story by Julia Correa, Development Special Projects volunteer

28 Apr

Breaking out of her comfort zone

Student overcomes shyness as a volunteer

Rosa Sanchez, Christo Rey Student Volunteer

Rosa Sanchez, a 12 grade student at Christo Rey High School on 106th and Park, says the best part of her volunteer experience has been to “really connect” with the toddlers she works with in the Parent and  Child Development program. She also loves the feeling of being “trusted” by the mothers to take care of their children. She also mentioned how welcoming the program staff have been, and how patient and willing they have been to teach her how to interact with the families. She said this experience has helped her to overcome her shyness and “break out of her comfort zone.”

Rosa began in the fall with 3 other Christo Rey volunteers; and typically the commitment is for only one semester; however she had such a good experience that she asked to be placed for a second semester at LSA, and it was permitted.

Rosa is hoping to attend Fordham University in the fall – it was her first choice of 9 colleges she applied to (she was accepted to all nine). She wants to study forensic pathology with a minor is psychology.

She said if she decides not to pursue forensic psychology, she would like to be an early childhood teacher.

We probably can guess where she got that idea!

 

28 Apr

Helping Families Through Art

Nicole Walker, Art Therapy Intern, Parenting and Child Development Program

“Everyone is so close in the program – teachers, aides – everyone knows each other well,” said Nicole Walker, describing what it’s like to work in the Parent and Child Development program at LSA.  “It’s a very interactive environment, and they made it easy for me to jump right in.  It’s a lot of fun, like being with family,” she said.

Nicole is a senior at Marymount Manhattan College studying art therapy. She will be graduating in May, and says her time at LSA has reinforced her interest in becoming an art therapist.  In addition to spending thee half days at LSA, she is a part time nanny for a family with four children on the Upper East Side.

She said that the most exciting part of the volunteer work is “meeting and interacting with so many different children.”  Though she does not speak Spanish, the primary language of the majority of our families, she has come to know the children well. “I learned that each child is so different and has a unique personality,” she says.

Nicole describes her most memorable experience: “When one of the toddlers in the program, named Nicole, learned that my name is Nicole, she first didn’t believe there could be someone else named Nicole! But she finally accepted it, and now whenever she sees me, she comes running right up to me, and gives me a big hug. Every time.”

 

28 Apr

Finding Purpose in Service

Volunteer Laura Diaz

Laura Diaz, Volunteer Executive Assistant

“It’s such a different work environment at LSA” said Laura Diaz, who volunteered as an Executive Assistant at LSA recently. Having come from a corporate background –14 years at financial institution, UBS — Laura noted that “everyone is so open and friendly” at LSA and that it feels “like a family.”

Laura was volunteering two days a week offering administrative support to Russell Nobles, our Chief Program Officer.  Laura helped tremendously in a variety of ways – including putting together all the elements for a grant proposal so that it was more cohesive – (and the good news, we received the grant!) She also did research about background checks, putting together a detailed analysis of different background checking companies.

Laura’s reason for volunteering was to spend her time in a meaningful way while she looked for a job. She commuted all the way from Jersey City – about an hour and half each way to LSA. She said the time spent volunteering at LSA “helped me get a better sense of self and purpose.”

Laura now works for a private equity firm, Fortress Investments. While we were sorry to see her leave, we wish her well in her new position.  The service she gave while at LSA was invaluable.

 

16 Dec

A DREAMer Gives Back

Prioska

Prioska Galicia, volunteer with reception, data entry, and food pantry

When Prioska’s mom asked where they could go to get help with a DACA application, a friend sent her to LSA.

LSA has been on the forefront of helping people like Prioska apply for DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – which protects people who came to the country as children and know no other home. Our deep roots in the community help us to reach people who are eligible, and our partnerships with organizations like the Legal Aid Society and the NY Legal Assistance Group help us connect individuals to the support they need.

Through LSA, Prioska got assistance in completing her DACA application. Her mom got help, too: “we didn’t know she could get her papers – we thought that she didn’t qualify. But they told her, yes, you’re eligible to become a citizen.”

Her relationship with LSA did not end there. This DREAMer is now giving back to the LSA community through volunteerism.

On her first visit to LSA, Prioska befriended Melina, one of our client advocates. Prioska offered her volunteer assistance as she wanted to give back to LSA in some way. Since then, Prioska has been a regular fixture at LSA, helping out in our food pantry, at our reception desk, and doing data entry.

Prioska said:  “What I like is that I get to interact with people one on one, to practice both my English and my Spanish, and to learn how to be on time and have responsibility. At the reception desk, I need to be ‘open ears and open eyes,’ so I can see who comes in and who needs help, or I’m on the phone helping people. In the food pantry, I’m making them feel comfortable. I just like helping people.”

She has been volunteering since September of 2015 for about six hours a week. Her friendly face often greets our LSA clients at the reception desk when there is an Advocacy staff meeting on Monday afternoons or during an all-staff meeting. She moves seamlessly among the three programs with which she volunteers, and has become an essential help to all.

“Prioska is always enthusiastic and eager to help – she is very attentive to the children, very engaging with our families. Her positive energy is great for children to be around,” said Wendy Miron, Director of the Education and Youth Services program. Prioska helps Wendy with data entry, and also with child care activities on Friday afternoons.

Prioska’s first impression of LSA was the everyone was “very nice” “friendly” and “welcoming.”  Volunteering at LSA has really helped her “to be able to speak up more for myself – I  can get along with a lot of different people as I have to help many different people in the food pantry,” she said.

Through her volunteer work, she is gaining skills that she hopes will prepare her for a future career in Communications.  She says she feels “more prepared to face the challenges ahead,” thanks to her volunteer experience at LSA.

Where does she see herself in 5 years? “I see myself graduating college and having a stable job. I would like to do communications and I would also like to be in the community helping people. That’s my plan.”

Photo by Micah Rubin.

09 Dec

Jessica’s Story

Aaron and Jessica

When Jessica and 18-month old Aaron started attending our socialization groups, Aaron rarely spoke. Our child specialists also noticed that he made little eye contact and did not respond when called by name.

After discussing their observations with Jessica, they soon referred Aaron to the Early Intervention Program, a public program through the City of New York, for extra help with his development.  Because LSA contracts with the city to provide Early Intervention Services, Jessica was able to have Aaron’s services coordinated here, in a setting where she already felt at home.

“I was reassured about the entire process after meeting with an LSA service coordinator assigned to my child’s case,” she said.   “The director of the EIP was also reassuring – Nydia Torres met with me and my child and addressed all of my concerns.”

Over the course of the next year, Aaron received therapy through our Early Intervention Program and participated in the play groups in our Parenting and Child Development Program.

She described her experience with LSA:

“Through the play group I got ideas of what I could do at home to help his fine motor skills, his language, and so forth.  It really helped him being around other children. He would enjoy it and I would enjoy it, too.  You get to meet other parents who might be going through a situation similar to yours or who can help you find out about other resources in the neighborhood.

“Aaron entered early intervention with PDD – Pervasive Developmental Disorder, the Autism Spectrum. I was also told by other professionals outside of EI that they suspected he had ADD and ODD – Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

“At the time, when I was first in Early Intervention, I didn’t know about early childhood development, I didn’t know about his diagnosis – I didn’t know about any of those things.  The therapists helped me to understand his diagnosis, how to help him, how to better adapt to his needs.

“My team was always there for me and my family, especially when no one else was there and when no one else understood.  They were there when I needed someone to talk to, to listen and provide advice, making recommendations when I was uncertain. They helped me to make informed decisions for my family’s needs. They were my support.

“With the intensive therapy Aaron has had and the program I had set up with him – he’s almost like a brand new child.  He got so much help and it benefited him so much that he doesn’t even have a diagnosis at this time.”

Thanks to the therapy sessions, Aaron improved dramatically. Today Aaron is in his first year of kindergarten and thriving.  And Jessica has the confidence to support Aaron in years to come. “I am now a better advocate for my child,” she said.  “I bloomed as a parent.”

Join us in helping more families like Elizabeth’s!
GIVE HOPE NOW

04 Dec

Q&A with Alice Nelson

Volunteer Alice Nelson

One of the nice things about LSA is that, once people have been a part of our community, they tend to come back:  old friends stop by to visit, clients return as volunteers, volunteers keep finding new ways to be involved.

They may even travel 10,000 miles, as volunteer Alice Nelson did, to work with us again.  Alice Nelson is a writer from Western Australia.  When she last volunteered with LSA, from 2001-2003, the agency was still in a brownstone on East 119th Street.  On a recent visit she found much changed, but the spirit and heart of the organization as welcoming as ever.

What do you remember about your first volunteer experience with LSA?

I came as a Little Sisters full time volunteer in 2001 and lived with the nuns.  I worked two years at the time in Advocacy.

I just loved how it was like a family, how there was no hierarchy and everyone pitched in. You’d have the bosses bagging food in the pantry as well as the volunteers.  The families felt that as well.  It wasn’t, you know, “us and them.”  It was a really lovely mutual feeling.

What brought you back to New York and LSA?

I’m in New York for the whole winter, staying in East Harlem for the next couple of weeks and pitching in in the food pantry.  I’ve got a novel which is actually set in East Harlem so it’s also a research trip.

Does LSA appear anywhere in the novel you’re working on?

It does!  Heavily disguised, but there is a Catholic social services agency that’s sort of at the center of the novel where the characters go and one character volunteers there.

LSA moved into this building in 2004 – a year after you returned to Australia.  What do you think of it?

I had no idea it was going to be so glamorous!  After my days in the freezing cold basement – freezing in winter and hot in summer – it’s amazing!

 

In the week since she’s been back, Alice has already been a great help to our Advocacy & Food Pantry, Parenting  and Childhood, and Education and Youth Services programs.  Thanks, Alice!

Photo by Micah Rubin.