AmeriCorps provides lessons in community service

For five seniors from Martin Van Buren and Cardozo High Schools, this year’s curriculum has taught more than just math and science. It has also offered lessons about community.
As members of AmeriCorps, a nationwide community service network, seniors Lenmarie Pascall, Roseanne Thomas, Shadesh Baijnath, Johanna Andrews and Geeta Sanehi have spent their school year working at an after-school program at the Samuel Field Y in Little Neck.
The job description calls for assistance in the supervision of the P.S. 115 elementary students who attend the program, but the five participants have done more than supervise - they have formed relationships.
“The first day we came in, the kids had no idea who we were,” said Baijnath, briefly stepping outside a classroom packed with clamoring youngsters. “Now, when you’re absent for one day, they’re asking where you were, saying they missed you.”
Each afternoon begins with a homework hour. After that, the fun starts, with activities like gym, arts and crafts and dance class filling the remainder of the afternoon.
For their efforts, the AmeriCorps students will receive $1,250 towards college and be featured on an upcoming ABC television special entitled “Above and Beyond,” to air June 16.
However, for Baijnath, neither the fame nor fortune is as valuable as the growth he has witnessed in himself. “I love working with kids,” said Baijnath. “Now I can see myself as a future father.”
Baijnath and his fellow volunteers also helped at the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island (RMH), a home-away-from-home for families whose children are undergoing treatment for serious illness.
“The students came here, and met with one of our vice presidents, wanting to get involved,” said Bob Weitzman, Executive Director of RMH. “They reached out to us.”
The students asked parents and kids of P.S. 115 for contributions of household items and goods, and recently presented the package to RMH, an event that “definitely made an impact” on the elementary students, said Andrews.
“[The RMH drive] helped them to open their eyes at a very young age to the importance of giving back,” she said.
Iris Shaw, program coordinator for the Samuel Field aftercare program, said the rapport her high schoolers have formed with the students is clear.
“I’ve seen some nice relationships and great times,” said Shaw. “The AmeriCorps students have become a common fixture. They don’t want to miss a beat.”