Emory & Henry student Caitlin Hollaway relates her experiences traveling with the Bonner Scholars to New York City during spring break in March, while Natalie Hudok, a senior, reflects on how her service trip to New York has helped shape her educational experience at Emory & Henry College.
By Caitlin Hollaway, Bonner Scholar, Class of 2015
When I arrived in New York for our spring break service trip, I was overwhelmed with all the new sites, sounds, and smells of the “Big City.” I knew this would be a trip that would expose me to many different places, things, and people.
The Bonner service trip is the best experience I have ever had the privilege in which to be involved. One week of intense, yet fun, service has truly changed my perspective on life for the better, and created strong friendships that I will never forget.
Bonner Scholars from Emory & Henry stayed in New York for one week, three of those days we performed community service work. We were divided into teams and went to several neighborhoods in New York to perform tasks, such as serving food to the hungry or sorting baby clothes for the people served. As a first-year Bonner Scholar who had never been far away from the Tri-Cities region, the New York City service trip completely changed my perspective on what life is like in a large city, as opposed to life here in Southwest Virginia.
While we had plenty of time to see the city’s most famous sites, such as Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and Chinatown, our service work had the largest impact on me and the other Bonners.
My group went to soup kitchens and food pantries in several neighborhoods in New York. As we rode the subway to our service site, we had the opportunity to talk with many natives of the city who really enjoyed listening to where we were from and our purpose for spending our spring break volunteering. When we arrived at our sites, we worked very hard, but the rewards were worth every bit of the work accomplished.
I had many opportunities to speak to the people we were serving at each site. They were very appreciative of our service, and many opened their hearts to us, giving us hugs and memories that will last a lifetime.
These experiences helped me realize the preconceived notions many rural individuals hold about northerners --that New Yorkers are rude ---are simply not true. I was amazed by the hospitality of the people we served. Many of them were having a hard time making ends meet, and they suffered from the same issues found in Southwest Virginia, such as the rising cost of living and unemployment.
My greatest reward was the exchange of conversations between me and the people we met. I listened to their heartbreaking stories of hunger and homelessness, while also sharing my story of life in rural Southwest Virginia. I discovered that in many ways we are alike, requiring the same needs to live and love, despite where we call home.
Our free time in the city brought the Bonner Scholars together, creating a sense of togetherness. We stayed in rooms where we could stretch our arms and almost touch the opposite wall. After a long day of getting to know the people in the city, we would find ourselves outside of our rooms, talking to each other, and building friendships.
There were many Bonners in the first-year class who I did not know well. I am very grateful that I got the chance to become closer to the Bonner family, and I hope to continue these friendships in the future.
By Natalie Hudok, Bonner Scholar, Class of 2013
Three years ago as a freshman, I took a train with my 19 fellow Bonners to spend spring break in New York City. There, we took part in a week-long work camp organized by Youth Service Opportunities Project (YSOP), which sends young people to volunteer organizations throughout the city and provides opportunities to reflect on service experiences. All that I knew from orientation was that New York City is divided into five boroughs, and that we would be based in Manhattan. We had also been briefed on the basics of navigating the subway system using a scannable card. We would be staying in a hostel, with all the girls clustered in one room and the guys in another. I had never been to New York City before, and I was both excited and anxious.
My time in New York showed me that jumping into service was the best way to experience the city. When you serve others, you immerse yourself into the day-to-day life of the area, even if only for a short while. It allows you to engage more meaningfully with people and to learn more than a tourist can experience just by viewing popular sites.
After this experience, whenever I want to visit a new area of the United States or a new country, I will always look for some sort of service I can take part in while I am there. It’s the quickest way to the heart of a place.
My week in the city was a whirlwind I will never forget. Each day we were up with the sunrise and out and about in the city until we crashed on our bunks late at night. In that time, I was able to see New York as both a tourist and a volunteer. Along with my group of Bonner Scholars, I volunteered at three service sites.
The first site was a soup kitchen in a low-income section of Brooklyn. There we served meals to all those who visited during the lunch hour. Many of these people were regulars, and some were homeless people who survived by going from one soup kitchen to another. Others were temporarily down on their luck and needed a boost. Most of them ate alone in silence. We got a scare when one man, apparently quite upset, pointed to our brilliant blue YSOP uniforms and started shouting, “Blue, blue, you’re wearing blue!”
The next day, we went to another soup kitchen, this one operated by a French nun who spoke only a few words of English. We communicated mostly through gestures and smiles, and it worked surprisingly well. There we prepared a meal that we served to the lunch crowd. That evening at another soup kitchen, all the Bonners, along with students from another college, prepared a dinner that we shared with people living in a nearby homeless shelter. As we chatted with these people, we learned their histories. Some of these people were obviously quite intelligent, and a couple even had college degrees. It goes to show how quickly circumstances can change the lives of people.
The following day was spent at a food pantry where they explained their method for distributing food. Once every two weeks or so, a member from each needy family reports to the pantry to be given a certain amount of food depending on the size of the family. We also learned about a program which teaches weekly cooking classes to young mothers, providing the supplies to prepare a meal on their own. This kind of program is especially helpful because it gives these mothers the resources and skills to be able to take care of themselves.
In between these days of service, we were able to squeeze in the requisite tourist activities as well. We saw the Rockefeller Center, Trump Tower, massive cathedrals, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, Central Park, Chinatown, Wall Street, the United Nations building, the World Trade Center, and the dazzling glare of Times Square in the middle of the night. We walked so many miles around the city and saw so many iconic sites that my head was spinning and blisters made walking painful by the end of the week.
As a girl having grown up in the country, New Yorkers seemed to me brusque, hurried, and unsympathetic as they brushed past each other along the sidewalk looking neither right nor left. But a local that we met in a New York pizza shop had a different view. He believed New Yorkers are actually more welcoming than some rural people because they see such a variety of people every day and nothing surprises them. Indeed, in one hour walking around New York, I heard more languages being spoken than I had heard in a year at home.
Despite the crowding and the blisters and despite the exorbitant prices and somewhat questionable food we obtained from street vendors, my week in New York was thrilling, eye-opening, and highly worthwhile. I was exposed to two environments entirely alien to me, one kind where all types of people hurry past each other on their way to work and another where low-income people clothed in mismatched outfits shuffled silently into the soup kitchens that give them sustenance each day.
I will never forget my ride home on the subway from Brooklyn, where our small group of six was quite obviously the only strangers on the train. As we received stares from the locals around us, I experienced what it was like to be in a minority.
The service work I did in New York made me realize the commitment that is required to effectively make a difference in people’s lives. Our short time spent there was a learning experience for us rather than a long-term effort to alleviate the suffering of New York. Though it was a valuable way to spend our time, our work there was a mere drop in the ocean of need in the city. The people who really make a difference are those dedicated individuals who are there for the long term, such as the French nun who prepares meals faithfully every day and those who teach weekly cooking classes to young mothers so that they will have the tools to take care of themselves not just for one day but for a lifetime.
Not all of us are called to serve in this particular capacity, but I do believe we all have a special niche where we can serve God by serving our fellow human beings. For me, my niche is teaching, tutoring, and nurturing the lives of young people in my community. Whether by serving food, tutoring students, or helping through a myriad of other means, we all have the capacity to make our community, and therefore our world, a little better.