This summer, fifteen children in St. Albans, Queens become ace reporters, recycling experts, and community activists. With adult mentors there every step of the way, the participants of our RSVP “Freedom Writers” program enjoyed five weeks of fun, educational activities designed to inspire young imaginations and boost school year success. As one mentor said, “These kids really are the future of our city.”
See the Freedom Writers slideshow.
RSVP Mentoring Program volunteers Dennis Whaley, June Davis, Ann Dyches, James Morton, Eleanor Speer, and Cecelia Castillo kicked off this year's program at The African Center for Community Empowerment (ACCE) in Queens. These trained mentors help build the confidence and resilience of children whose parents are incarcerated, which makes the partnership with ACCE—which also serves children of incarcerated parents—a terrific fit. Said June Davis, "I’m excited. The summer will just fly by!"
ACCE Executive Director Saywalah Kesselly reached out to neighborhood families, inviting youngsters age 6-12 to join ACCE’s Summer Camp, of which our Freedom Writers program is a vital component. Also helping out were RSVP AmeriCorps Vistas Katie O’Hare and Sarah Quinlan, along with NY Times Intern Syed Habib.
This year’s theme, “Youth Empowerment through Environmental Awareness and Community Reporting,” led to lively discussions about trash, landfills, and the importance of recycling. The lessons took root. Said Jordan, age 12: “If we don't recycle, the Earth will be filled up with garbage. We can reuse soda containers and egg cartons to grow gardens.”
The summer progressed, friendships developed, and laughter filled the classroom along with daily writing time. Katie O’Hare could occasionally be heard calming the roomful of excited voices with a simple, “clap twice if you can hear my voice.” Next, the children planted seeds at the foot of a tree. Soon plants, flowers, and even vegetables grew outside ACCE, with recycled plastic bags and a reused bookshelf supporting the community garden. Together, mentors and students tended the soil, learned about “good” versus “not-so-good” garden bugs, and photographed their handiwork.
CSS’s Deirdre Ramos, who helped lead the photo workshop, watched each child explore the power of images to tell a story and make an impact. "Spending the day with the ACCE Freedom Writers was a breath of fresh air,” she said.
As the program drew to a close, the students created an amazing on-the-ground account of their summer adventure as community reporters.
Have a look at The Voice of ACCE.