Summer at a glance…
Below are some reflections from our new Fellows and second-year Bridgers about their time in the Fellowship this past summer at our annual orientation retreat and the teens’ participation in Engaging Workplace Diversity.
Outside of My Comfort Zone
by Osmar Perez
At first, YouthBridge-NY’s overnight retreat seemed a bit daunting: traveling all the way to the middle of nowhere with mostly unfamiliar folks didn’t look like my safest expedition for the summer. As I trickled down the bus’s steps to collect my luggage, I didn’t have the slightest clue of the amount of fun awaiting me.
The first few hours of the retreat were full of ice breakers and discussions that launched my peers and I outside of our comfort zones; in fact, one of the ice breakers required us to devise memorably silly handshakes with other participants we hadn’t acquainted with. There was one overarching sentiment between my peers and I by the end of the first day: we all felt as if we spent an entire week or so at URJ Kutz Camp even though it had only been a few hours since our arrival. I’m pretty sure our fear of the unknown caused our bonds to strengthen as we all tried to help each other out in adjusting to the rural environment that was Warwick, New York. Speaking of bonds, by the time the sky began to dim, the staff, Fellows, and Bridgers gathered in the Fishbowl Lobby to begin “Show and Tell” where each of us presented one item from home and explained how it relates to our identities. After everyone shared out, I developed a deeper appreciation for everyone there because I began to see them in a light that strayed from the superficial, and I thought that was pretty cool.
If you really want to know the activity that definitely pushed me outside of my comfort zone, then you’re probably going to want to ask me about the Alpine Tower, a not-so-climbable, 50-foot wooden structure. The task seemed pretty straightforward: step on all its rocks until you get to the top. Not long after, this naïve idea of rock-climbing surely stung me by the time I was halfway up the tower because I soon came to realize that the rocks’ sizes dwindled as you climbed further up. The cutthroat scent of pine trees and the encouragement from my peers concocted the perfect recipe for an atmosphere of pressure; I was grateful for the fact that nobody heard my incessant panting climbing up the tower. Lunging myself off a swaying log, I successfully became the first Fellow to reach the top of the Alpine Tower. Although this may seem like a cliché takeaway that revolves around perseverance, the lesson I learned from such a nerve-wracking experience is that commitment is easier said than done. I could’ve quit by the time I lost my balance on one of the rocks, but I already promised myself that I would reach the top. I could’ve quit by the time I felt anxious over the fact that all the staff members, Fellows, and Bridgers scrutinized my every move, but I kept climbing because I wanted to prove to myself that I could rock-climb on my first try. That arduous half-hour helped me visualize the results of resilience and grit.
My Feelings of Uneasiness Faded
By Tara Mavinakere
After an endless one and a half months of SAT prep and sleepless movie nights, I finally ventured out of Queens to go on the overnight orientation retreat at the URJ Kutz Camp. I was truly dreading this trip; I wasn’t sure if YouthBridge would be the right place for me. While on the train ride to the office, I started questioning every decision I had made up until that point. Is it too late to call out sick? Had I over-packed? Had I under-packed? Would I make friends?
Once I got to our meeting place in Midtown Manhattan my feelings of uneasiness faded as I saw familiar faces. The people I had met at the interview welcomed me with a hug and I felt relieved. I instantly connected with many of the Fellows, and eventually got to know some of the Bridgers as well.
The YouthBridge staff had many icebreakers and activities prepared to help us get to know each other better, and feel more comfortable with the rest of the group. One of these activities was the show and tell, where everyone brought in an object to describe themselves. Each person had an opportunity to talk about what makes them who they are, something we aren’t asked very often. However, my favorite part of the retreat was the free time we got at night before lights out. The bonds I had already formed strengthened as we relaxed together, enjoying each other’s company.
By the end of the retreat, I no longer wanted to go home. I loved my time at the camp, and I loved the new relationships I had formed with other members of the group. I had barely known these people for two days, but I felt as if I was parting with friends I’d had for years. The retreat made me eager to see what’s to come with this group who would soon become my family.
All We knew Was the Hard Work We Put into This Project
By Jessica Gruboy
Walking into the board room on the day of our presentations with my partner was exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time. We had just spent an hour solidifying our speeches in addition to the six weeks of preparing our business plan for our room of friends, family, and of course, intimidating adults who we admired and hoped to impress.
We had no idea what to expect nor what the environment in the room would be. All we knew was the hard work that we had put into this project- and that was calming enough. Seeing Karen and Sam full of passion and confidence in ourselves was inspiring. We watched our peers present their projects- we watched with so much overflowing pride because we saw how far they, as well as the rest of us, had come this summer. We started off with nervous rhetoric and a lack of information on our projects. In the blink of an eye, we became entrepreneurs with a vast sea of knowledge and confidence to boost our speaking. Nevertheless, walking up to the podium made my heart pound and my skin crawl.
Once we began our presentation, though, the reality of the situation became crystal clear: we were in a room full of peers and mentors who solely wanted us to succeed and who had the utmost trust in and respect for our hard work. The Q&A session was by far the most reassuring- judges, friends, and adults alike were asking us genuine questions and giving us feedback that made it obvious our work could actually have an impact- being told by a business owner that we could develop our plan into something tangible was so rewarding. By the time the results of the day had come, we knew that no matter what the outcome, our efforts were prize enough.
I Managed to Make More Direct Connections
By Jocelyn Tang
From the site visits I experienced with Engaging Workplace Diversity (EWD) this summer, I managed to make more direct connections with the professionals there and get a sense of the working environments. I was encouraged to ask questions which had once been a personal challenge for me, as I felt intimidated to approach adults or I felt my questions weren’t “good enough” or “not worth their time.” Asking questions allowed me to not only reflect on what they were saying, but it also built my confidence and motivated me to allow my curiosity to shine through.
Visiting the Facebook office blew my mind just like I thought it would. I got to see the unique working environment that encourages collaboration and creative thinking without the limitations of separation or a ranking system. It was clear to me that this facilitates the free and progressive nature embodied in Facebook. I now have a better understanding of the work environment and people who make the company successful.
I also got to visit the MasterCard tech hub. Not going to lie, I didn’t think this visit would interest me as much as it did. Before learning about the tech hub, I would have envisioned it to involve complex coding and programming that I would never understand. However, the MasterCard Tech Hub exposed me to the extent of technology and its impacts. I learned you don’t have to be a computer science genius to be involved. The tech hub’s use of virtual reality to make new products puts into perspective how these new innovations can benefit countless people. Regardless of my skill level or experience, I recognize the value in exploring technology.
The EWD site visits allowed me to learn about others’ experiences through colleges and various career paths. Most people reassured me that it’s okay that I don’t 100% (or not even 50%) know what I want to do in the future. This helps me live more in the present without constantly worrying about my potential careers. The workers have encouraged me to get out there and talk with people about their experiences (who doesn’t enjoy talking about themselves?), to have an open mind, to not be shy, to speak my own mind. After the site visits, have I completely figured out my future? No. Have I taken the first steps to understanding that future? Yes. Did I learn? Definitely.