AWB 2017 More than Just a Day of Cleaning

By Sharon Schoenfeld
Evan (l) makes someone really happy

Today, at the Sherman House, an independent living residence, we were tasked with helping the residents clean their apartments, but our purpose there went deeper than that. It seemed at first as if the woman I was helping didn’t need my assistance, but after talking to her for a few minutes, I realized that I was really there to be with her and connect with her. I learned that she grew up in Charleston, was involved with the hippie movement, adopted her daughter from China and unfortunately separated from her husband soon after.  She moved in to the Sherman House a few years prior, had attended a Christmas party the day before I had met her, and suffered physically from arthritis flare-ups that prohibit her from doing the things she loved. Sadly, as she showed me around her unit and told me about some photos and objects there, I learned about the hardships of losing friends and the constant reminder of them that remains in one’s everyday life. I realized that today’s service wasn’t necessarily about cleaning apartments, but rather about being open and available to talk to someone who may not have the opportunity to interact and engage with others as often as one might need.

Later at the hotel, a group called the Transformative Teaching Collective led an activity focused on identifying aspects of one’s social identity and opening up about racial issues and injustices in one’s life. From the start they set a comfortable atmosphere by instructing us to be vulnerable and open about ourselves. I found it very easy to share my experiences and opinions and even form and modify my own opinions based on insight I had gained from hearing others speak. The facilitators ended the session by reminding us that New Year’s was coming up and asked how we want to face ourselves and social justice differently in the New Year. I shared that I wanted to keep in mind that when interacting with others, people should always remember that they don’t know someone’s complete backstory. From there, one should be aware of how and what they say to others and to treat everyone with the respect they deserve.

 ~ Evan Ressel; 11th grade, Plainview, New York

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