IRC New York Celebrates National Youth Service Day
On a sunny Saturday in April, in recognition of National Youth Service Day, 14 refugee youth, along with seven local youth volunteers and three IRC New York staff members, took part in a waterfront cleanup project on the Hudson River.
The resulting project was IRC for Clean Communities, a day of service, fun, learning, and new friends. The 21 young people who took part in the project joined millions of others who organized and took part in innovative service projects around the world. National Youth Service Day is the single largest service event in the world.
A collaborative project with the Hudson River Project , IRC for Clean Communities addressed a community need by providing maintenance and cleanup of beaches along the lower Manhattan section of the Hudson River.
For IRC New York volunteers, National Youth Service Day began with a dynamic presentation on the ecology and history of the Hudson River (including efforts to clean the river) by the Hudson River Project staff. Youth then walked to Pier 25, near Chambers Street, to begin the sweeping, painting, and beautification efforts. Lunch, catered by Sandwich Planet (534 Ninth Ave) provided an opportunity for conversation, as well as views of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. Throughout the day, walkers, runners, and other passers-by were pleased to hear about IRC's efforts to involve youth in service activities an d eager to learn about the youth who had devoted their day to improving their community.
“It was neat to be able to gaze out at the Statue of Liberty with some of the kids and to realize that, for many of them, it was the first time they had seen the landmark up close. We worked together to clean up a city that is so old to me and so new to them – that was a great feeling,” said Amanda Netburn, a researcher at the Blue Ocean Institute who volunteered with IRC New York for the day.
Volunteer work and national service are often unfamiliar concepts for refugee youth new to America. “ IRC for Clean Communities introduced refugee youth to the American spirit of volunteerism,” said Clifford Rames, regional director of the IRC's New York resettlement office. “ It was an important project in our on-going effort to guide refugees through their resettlement experience and help acculturate them to their new homes in the United States.”
The project also provided refugee youth new to New York with an opportunity to learn about the history of the Hudson River, ecology, and recycling, and to demonstrate a commitment to community service. Perhaps most importantly, youth were able to interact with peers from many backgrounds, all of whom are committed to bettering their communities.
“Pairing recently arrived refugee youth with their American-born peers in a joint effort to clean up our community was a perfect way to demonstrate through action that every individual, whether immigrant or native, new resident or long-time citizen, can make a difference,” said Rames.
National Youth Service Day is a public awareness and education campaign that highlights the contributions that young people make to their communities 365 days a year. As the largest service event in the world, National Youth Service Day draws together a remarkable consortium of local, regional, and national partners, engaging millions of young people in important service activities. This year, around New York and around the world, volunteers tutored young children, registered new voters, distributed HIV/AIDS prevention materials, and cleaned public spaces. IRC for Clean Communities was made possible through a generous grant from AT&T Youth Service America.