Children have proven that if they see a way to improve their neighborhood, they have the power to collaborate, whether by exercising a green thumb, the stroke of a paint brush, or by pursuing other activities.
For many children who volunteered with their parents, June felt like a community spirit month, and some felt inclined to participate in more than one event and made friends while they were at it. As a result of Home Depot’s humanitarian mission, multi-colored varieties of flowering bushes known as hydrangeas were donated by the Glendale branch, in addition to begonias, impatiens, and petunias. In collaboration with this columnist, an approximate 50 volunteers landscaped The Howard Apartments’ large lawns on 66th Road on June 18 and revive the local residential community garden concept, which can be traced to the 1930s. That led to a landscaping opportunity on June 25 with 25 volunteers to further beautify the properties. The community’s youth ranged from age 4 to 16.
Howard Apartments resident Myitzu Min Zu and her family, including her 9-year-old son Orratha, received a first-hand lesson in gardening and applied the finishing touches on June 29. “My son had a wonderful time planting colorful hydrangeas,” she said. “Orratha likes nature so much, that he believes planting trees and flowers would restore the balance in the whole world. He thinks it needs restoring because of the air pollutants, and now he knows it is hard work, since he experienced planting them himself. He said it was great letting him have his first experience gardening, and he would like to say thank you.”
Between the gardening opportunities was an event by the Forest Hills & Rego Park Graffiti Cleanup Initiative that improved Forest Hills on June 27, attracting 15 volunteers, as young as age 5.
“A beautiful and cleaner community makes us happier,” explained Juliana Zakowski, whose 6-year-old child Dylan volunteered. “I was very proud of him, since he did a great job taking care of the plants, making sure they were dug deep enough.”
“I learned the basics of community service, and would like to say that volunteering is extremely important for the experience and the skills that you learn,” said 16-year-old High School for Math, Science, & Engineering student Darren Hamilton, who volunteered with his mother Amy Hsu. He continued, “I enjoyed the gardening events and the Forest Hills mailbox graffiti cleanup, since I felt as if I was contributing to the community in a relatively large way. Graffiti on mailboxes and in general can be curbed by maintaining objects more and more thoroughly.” To further improve the community, he would like to learn what the community is requesting. “It will directly benefit the community with direct input,” he said.
His mother said, “It was a great feeling seeing him work in a group setting and engaging with other people.” In order to maintain the community routinely, she suggested having students engaged continuously and on a rotational basis in community activities and stressing the importance of civic awareness. She said, “Teens should feel proud to live in a neighborhood where the landscape includes trees, flowers, and zero graffiti. In the future, they can proudly say they contributed to the beauty of their neighborhood, and pass on this mindset.”
Evelyn Vargas watched in pride as her daughter Valentina Galdamez, a PS 175 student volunteered. She said, “It’s very important for our children to learn about empathy, community, teamwork, and making a positive difference in our world, even if it’s a small one. All these aspects are cultivated through volunteering. I would like my daughter to learn that this world is not just ‘about me,’ but ‘about us.’” To achieve that reality, she recommended more volunteer efforts, being good role models, and exposing uncivil behaviors on social media. As a believer in the broken windows theory, she said, “If a neighborhood is neglected, it only calls for more neglect and antisocial behavior.”
Galdamez said, “I felt proud of myself because I planted flowers in front of a building and we made it look beautiful. I learned that taking care of a building is better than leaving it plain. It is important to volunteer because you can help the community become better, and it is fun to do.
In the past, she volunteered with her best friend by cleaning Rockaway Beach. Each opportunity leads to further brainstorming. “We can pick up garbage from the street. Sometimes I have toys that I don’t like anymore and another kid might want them, and I may want what another kid doesn’t play with anymore. Another idea is giving old clothes that don’t fit to other people who cannot afford new clothes.”
“I wasn’t present at the gardening events since I had to work, but knowing that both of my children are very eager to participate in events to help the community makes me proud,” said Yin Wu. She suggested bi-weekly or monthly volunteer opportunities as a beneficial means for maintaining the community, which would also mount to a fun learning experience. “Having our children contribute is a wonderful way of encouraging future contributions to great causes,” she said.
Her 15-year-old daughter Brianna said, “It’s always uplifting to be able to help the community. Taking simply a few hours from your schedule to do volunteer work can prove to be fun and helpful.” She has faith that people of all ages can easily find volunteer opportunities. “Activities such as cleaning up environments and communal locations, repainting or refurbishing areas, and working at places such as public libraries can all be great opportunities.”
Wu’s sixteen-year-old son Alex said, “It was fun to try something that I have not done before. Working together with many people on a big community project was a blast! I learned how to properly dig a hole and plant flowers in a suburban environment, and I never thought that it would be an exciting activity.” His ideas for volunteering are sweeping local parks, eliminating weeds, or assisting in nursing homes. “Even if you think that a small community activity feels like it has little to no effect, it will have a great impact in the long-run,” he said.