Category Archives: IMPACT: Boston

Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 11.01.37 AMAug 12, 2013

Reflections on the CIEE English Language Academy

Reflections from Simon Goldberg, International Programs Lead Coordinator.

It is difficult to believe that CIEE at Brandeis is already over. Two incredible weeks of cultural exchange and English learning. Two weeks of new friendships and infectious laughter. Two weeks of deep conversations and reflection on what connects us, human beings from completely different backgrounds who harbor and promote such incongruous worldviews.

The barriers were there at the outset. When they arrived, the participants were clearly, understandably, inclined to interact only with those who shared their language and nationality. It’s daunting, isn’t it, stepping off of a plane in a new country, halfway through your teenage years? Discovering and at the same time contorting to a new lifestyle, a new set of expectations? And to some extent–let’s be honest–doing this alone. But the participants’ initial apprehension about less familiar people gave way to a growing self-confidence in their ability to engage with the sheer diversity of the group; as that sort of interaction could only take place in English, the classes in which they were enrolled provided an invaluable platform on which to speak and wrestle with the language, and to come out stronger.

And so did our programs. Color War, for instance, had them running and jumping and joining together in common, competitive purpose. It allowed them to forget about grammar and their projects and their thoughts of home and their fears of the coming year and to look to each other’s passion and athletic ability for the fleeting inspiration they so desired. It was there, lurking, abundant, and once it was tapped, everything changed. One evening at 10pm, after we returned from an outing together, the common area outside of the participants’ dormitories was buzzing with excitement. A frisbee was seen cutting back through the air and back. Whereas it was previously quiet at the conclusion of a day’s activities, that night, it was clear, something had changed. The floodgates of closeness had opened. Everyone was outside, converging around music blasting from the speaker dock–one special speaker dock most probably unaware of the magic it was producing for these teens, who all of a sudden looked like a family.

I think the creation of a comfortable, open space in which the teens could feel they were not judged was one of the great successes of our time together.

When all was said and done it turned out the CIEE participants bonded more than we ever thought they would. In their scrapbooks, which they spent Saturday morning putting together, they wrote moving messages to one another, wishing success ahead, reminiscing about times shared. I peeked over and saw: “You are my friend forever.” Another read: “Don’t forget me.”

It’s always like that when you go on a ride together that doesn’t stop until suddenly it does. Two weeks that are all the things I listed above; two weeks that also feel like two years, but when the dust settled, ended all too soon. If the participants can translate the audacity and willpower they displayed at Brandeis to their time here in America, the sky is limit. Because we felt this, we pushed them during our last night together to learn the words of the great Mark Twain, who once said: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Until we meet again.

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Spotlight: Hebrew Senior Life

- Jess (Great Neck, NY)

What we did at the Hebrew Senior Life site was exactly as expected – we spent time with the Jewish elderly.  Yet, it was the unexpected moments that really molded and enhanced our incredible experiences.  Whether it was participating in beading, current events discussions, or singing along to Broadway songs, we could always spark up some interesting conversations and receive sweet smiles from the residents that made all the difference.  Even when faced with the difficult task of attempting to effectively communicate with the patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, the nine of us worked through it and happily reintroduced ourselves to restart the conversation.  We formed strong connections with the residents, which not only benefited the residents but also deeply impacted each of us.  We walked in with open minds and hearts waiting to help others and walked out with the satisfaction of knowing that we had made a difference for someone, even if only for a moment.  The memories we have made at Hebrew Senior Life will forever remain with us, but more than that, this experience has laid the foundation for us to grow and embrace life.  Thanks to Alex, our Group Educator, and the staff and residents of Hebrew Senior Life, we will continue to use the skills we have acquired to pick up and put together the world’s broken pieces, and better ourselves as a Jewish people.

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Spotlight: Waltham Police Department

- Brett (Mt Laurel, NJ)

Over the past week, IMPACT: Boston has been making a huge difference in the local community of Prospect Hill. Our group has been working with Officer June Conway at the Waltham Police Department Community Policing unit to not only make physical improvements to the area, but also to bring a burst of new energy and motivation to the residents, specifically the children of the community.

With the help and hard work of kids in the neighborhood, we cleaned up, weeded, and re-mulched the playground to inspire kids to congregate there and use it well. In addition, we trimmed hedges and bushes and weeded gardens to beautify the area, re-painted tables in the courtyard, and even built new benches and painted them to give the local kids more usable space to play in.

Between the actual improvements made to the neighborhood, and the improvements on the attitudes of the kids, the future looks better for Prospect Hill.  We hope to have positively influenced the kids to make good decisions and maintain their community while staying out of trouble. It was difficult to leave them on the last day, but it is reassuring to know that they have hopefully been positively influenced to stay on the right track for the rest of their lives.

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Spotlight: New England Center for Homeless Veterans

Before Impact: Boston, here’s how we would have described a person who is homeless:

“Grumpy” – Alyssa
“Violent and addicted to alcohol and drugs” – Meryl
“Dirty, unshaven” – Renee
“Unfriendly” – Sterling
The New England Center for Homeless Veterans is a unique center that provides food, shelter, and other services for homeless veterans. The veterans can use it as a resource for rehabilitation and recovery and as a way to reintegrate themselves into society. For the past five days, we’ve been working with residents to help with the flow of incoming donations and other tasks. We’ve been sorting their clothing donations to put out in the store for the veterans to use, helping out in the kitchen, serving meals, and making the beds the veterans sleep in at night. We also get the chance to interact with the veterans during their lunch time. During that time, we get to hear their stories, about their current lives, and just talk to them about how they’re doing and what they do in their spare time. However, we don’t just talk about their lives. They also ask about our lives and what we like to do, allowing us to make real connections with the veterans.
Now that we’ve had the opportunity to work with the New England Center for Homeless Veterans, we know that:
“Hearing their stories helps to influence us to make smart decisions in our own lives and steer away from the mistakes they made.” -Heather
“The world is unfair, but we have the power to make a difference.” -Alyssa
“We won’t make assumptions about people.” -Meryl
“We learn not to make the same mistakes they made that caused them to end up homeless.” -Zach
“I’ve gained empathy for people experiencing homelessness.” -Alon

 

“They’re just like you and I” – Aryeh
“Before Impact: Boston, I never would have stopped to have a conversation with someone who is homeless.” -Kelsey
“I am now sympathetic to the cause and am able to understand the homeless people’s situation.” -Michele
 
Alyssa, Charlotte, North Carolina
Aryeh, Palo Alto, California
Alon, Palo Alto, California
Michele, Rockville, Maryland
Meryl, Clifton Park, New York

Kelsey, Charlotte, North Carolina
Heather, Duxbury, Massachusetts
Zach, Potomac, Maryland
Sterling, Dallas, Texas
Renee, Houston, Texas
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Spotlight: Eliot House

These past four days at the Eliot House have been eye opening.  Working with adults with mental illnesses has already changed the way we view all the people in this world.  After talking to these people, we realized that they are not much different than us.  Their abilities to think and feel are no less shrouded than ours.  Experiencing the way they live their lives each day reminds us of “b’tzelem Elohim”, the thought that every human is created in God’s image.  Therefore, we are all a part of God and live equally.

– Eliot Heritage House Volunteers

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Spotlight: Spare Change News

I can’t remember an experience that has changed my outlook on a group of people like panhandling did for my view of people experiencing homelessness.  I never realized that a person could be ignored by virtually everyone walking past.  I felt so insignificant, as if no one cared about my well being.  And when people did acknowledge me, I felt as if they were criticizing me with every awkward stare as they walked past, or dropped change in my hat.  The feeling I got being told to “get a job” was one of the most degrading feelings I’ve ever experienced.  Panhandling was embarassing, degrading, and, at times, frightening…

…and I am so glad I did it.  I now know what millions of people, across the US and across the world, are forced to do just to have a meal for the night.  It was an extremely eye-opening experience, and I don’t think my eyes will ever close.

Danny
Plano, Texas

 

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Last Day of IMPACT: Boston

As we come to the end of our program, we have spent time reflecting on our experience so far and looking forward into the future of what will come. We’ve celebrated Shabbat together, participated in a workshop about class and wealth, and heard from a speakers’ bureau of homeless and formerly homeless individuals. Over the past few days, we ended our time with our service sites and made plans for bringing this experience back to our home communities. This session has been a great learning experience for all of us– participants and staff alike – and we are thrilled to have shared it with each other.

 

 

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Spotlight: Youth Force

Today we went to Youth Force, continuing our relationships with the teens that work there. We watched a video on the street that we would be door-knocking for people to register to vote tomorrow. The movie was to show the improvements of the city. We then ate lunch together and took a train to the State House to hear a rally for allowing teens of Lowell, Massachusetts the right to vote for municipal offices at age 17 since they see still engaged in the community and the voting attendance is around 19 percent in Lowell currently. The Senators and other people spoke and preformed – it was interesting to see how engaged the teens are to see a change!!

Ashley
Leawood, KS

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Spotlight: Eliot Nike Village

Nike Village is the best experience ever.  Each person we have met there has impacted my life.  They all are affected by mental illness, but they don’t seem any different than you or me.  It’s really easy to have a conversation with them.

The best experience I had was when one of the residents was talking to me.  I lost my voice and she noticed, so she asked me if I wanted a cough drop.  I said yes, and she said that she was really glad that she could help someone.  It made me feel like I could cry because she didn’t realize how much she was impacting my life.  But I was impacting her life while she was impacting mine, too.

Talia
Olympia, WA