A group of Bushwick students is working diligently this summer to organize events for their community and to ensure that their peers remain out of local gangs.
It’s all part of El Puente’s Bushwick Center’s Summer of Service, a program run out of the organization’s location on Central Avenue.
During the school year, the program works like an afterschool program, where students spend the 3 hours following school until 6 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, finishing their homework, tackling larger school projects, doing community service, and learning about things like spoken word, theater, and photography.
But during the summer, students enrolled in the Summer of Service program take a more hands on approach to giving back to the community.
It’s a job like any other – one focused on event planning. A group of 30-40 students meet daily during the week from 9:30 to 4:30 to brainstorm ideas for community events and then work to execute them.
“I’ve had several little jobs throughout the years, but not something that’s helpful to the entire community, and I really want to be able to give back to people,” said Ashley Benitez, a rising sophomore at SUNY New Paltz, who has been part of the Summer Service program for the last three years. “It was a good way for me to start looking at things differently and realize that there are a lot of things wrong with our community that need to be fixed and who else is going to do it but us?”
This week, the students at the Bushwick Center are planning a carnival that will take place at the Hope Ballfield on Grove Street, just like all their other events. Students plan all the games and activities that will be conducted the day of, but also reach out to local summer programs to invite their students and to neighborhood parents to get more of the community engaged with the events.
Last week the students organized a book fair catering to students of different ages, much like the program itself, which is open to students ages 13 through 19.
Events still coming up for the summer include an Arts Jam and a back to school fair. But apart from planning students have also learned to adapt events according to the social temperature of the neighborhood.
The Ballfield was the site of a shooting couple of years ago, and the students decided to use it to stage their events this year to help community members disassociate from that stigma.
Often times, students will use things they’ve learned in the program and adapt them in their own schools to address the concerns facing students.
Sensing that students were troubled by the news of police brutality along racial lines, program member Solana Roman, a junior in high school, started her own spoken word collective at school, where she says students felt more comfortable expressing themselves freely, improved on their writing skills, and used the space as a forum for self reflection.
Asenhat Gomez, who runs the program at the Bushwick Center, has herself been a product of the school. She attended the El Puente program targeted towards young people in the neighborhood 20 years ago.
“You really see the students undergoing transformations,” said Gomez. “You can see them come into their element. Young people are discovering who they are and who they want to be. You see how they mature, and how they grow, and how one issue can really turn a young person into a leader. It’s truly a rewarding experience.”
Today, three of Gomez’ former students are now employees at the Bushwick Center.
More information on the program and a full line up of events visit http://elpuente.us/content/bushwick-centers-summer-service.