Good Causes by
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(165 Stories)

Prompted By Volunteering

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When we moved to Manhattan’s Yorkville neighborhood in the mid-1970s I was a young mother on maternity leave at home with a one-year-old,  and every day,  weather permitting,  we’d find ourselves  across the street in Carl Schurz Park.   The park was named in 1910 for the German-born Secretary of the Interior at a time when Yorkville had a very large German-American community.   And several excellent German restaurants can still be found in the neighborhood serving delicious sauerbraten and strudel.

One day as my toddler played in the sandbox,  I started a conversation with a woman named Cheryl who was sharing my park bench.   I told her that Carl Schurz Park with it’s playground,  gardens,  East River promenade,  and historic Gracie Mansion,   the mayor’s home,  was a godsend for me.  (See Kente Cloth)

“I volunteer with a civic group that supports the park.“  Cheryl said,  “It’s a good cause,  why don’t you join us?”.

And so I did.  I joined the events committee and eventually became secretary of the board of the Carl Schurz Park Association,  now the Carl Schurz Park Conservancy.   (See Mr October)

The city was in financial crisis at the time and our fundraising and event-planning efforts for the park were especially needed.   We formed a volunteer gardening committee to work with the city’s Parks Dept,  ordered new and safer playground equipment,   planned outdoor summer concerts,  and organized children’s and holiday programs.    We also established a strong presence on the local community board,  and ran an annual,  juried art show that attracts visitors from all over the city.

And I learned how much a handful of dedicated volunteers can accomplish and how rewarding working for a good cause can be.   Then after many fulfilling years on the board,  I stepped down making way for an eager,  younger volunteer to step in.

Years later,  when I retired from a long career in school libraries,   my  friend Karlan,  a recently retired public librarian herself,  called me.

“I’m heading a new organization called Literacy for Incarcerated Teens / LIT,”  she said,  “ it’s a good cause,  won’t you join us?“

LIT,   Karlan explained,  is a community-based non-profit committed to combating illiteracy in court-involved children and young adults by partnering with New York’s city and state agencies and school districts.   To this end LIT raises and allocates funds for the creation of libraries and book collections in juvenile detention centers.   And equally important is the funding LIT provides for teachers and librarians to create literacy and arts programming including read-ins,  poetry slams,  literary festivals,  museum trips,  and art,  music,  and writing workshops led by visiting artists and authors.

Having worked for decades at an inner city vocational high school,   I’d seen too many of our students with reading and other deficiencies in dire need of remediation.   Our faculty worked hard to help them,  and we celebrated those who graduated and went on to good jobs or to college.

But hard as we teachers and support staff might try,   the deck was stacked against many of these kids and they took the wrong path,  sometimes landing in detention centers like the ones served by LIT.   So this was certainly a cause dear to my heart,  and I joined Karlan on the LIT board.

Once during a writing workshop at one of the centers,  a visiting author read to the kids from one of his books,  elicited their responses,  and then encouraged them to write short pieces of their own to read aloud.

One student,  very pleased with the piece he’d just written,  asked if the author could come back and lead another workshop.    The author said that indeed he was coming back in two months.

“Damn”,  said the kid disappointedly,  “my time will be up by then and I’ll be out!”

Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!
www.WorldThruBrownEyes.com

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Tags: Volunteering, Parks, Literacy,

Comments

  1. Laurie Levy says:

    Thank you, Dana, for giving back to your community in so many ways.

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    You’ve done good work, meaningful to you, through the years, Dana. Keep it up. This is what the world needs.

  3. Marian says:

    Nice work, Dana, and it must have been fulfilling to get feedback that your activities made a difference. Your work for the park reminds me of a group here call the Urban Forest, which plants and maintains trees in the city of San Jose.

  4. Suzy says:

    Sounds like you made an important contribution to both of these worthy causes. And I love the humorous ending, where the incarcerated teen was disappointed that he would be out by the time the visiting author was going to return!

  5. So much good work, Dee! I especially admire your work combatting illiteracy in at-risk kids, and I really love how you made this an enjoyable, entertaining story with your perfect closing anecdote. Well done!

    • Thanx Bebe, and you well know the importance of literacy and cultural enrichment for all youngsters, and these kids need it most! If you were on this coast and this pandemic was behind us, I’d encourage you to become one of our guest artists, and to bring your big cardboard box!

  6. I have to start with your ending line of dialogue: what an explosive, joyful, and funny way to go out!
    The first part of your essay made me feel I need to give more “props” to the people in my own community who can be counted on for the kinds of NGO support that is so important in sustaining our civic life! And the later part made me really eager to hear more stories–about the adolescents with whom you are working and the material they produce! I hope there is more to come.

    • Thanx Dale, I’ll try to think of more stories to write about those kids.

      I did write a Retro story awhile ago about one of the students at the vocational high school where I worked as librarian. It was for the Libraries prompt and is called The Diary of a Young Girl. Perhaps you’ll like it!

  7. Joe Lowry says:

    I loved the story of the kid who wanted to come to the next workshop, but would be out when it happened. My first grade teacher taught me to read, and it was a big part of my success. I feel that great elementary teachers need to paid more than the surgeon that adds a couple of years to end of your life. If you cannot read most of your life, it probably not be a very fulfilling life.

  8. Joe Lowry says:

    I loved the story of the kid who wanted to come to the next workshop, but would be out when it happened.

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