NYC250 cover image See all stories from issue #250, January/February 2016

Contest Winners #230
Describe a time you made a difference in your community
Writing Contest Winners

1st Prize
Taking Action for Animals

Kania Rimu, 16, Forest Hills High School, Elmhurst, NY
My passion for animal rights began when I was a young child living in Bangladesh. One day, I was walking through a crowded and polluted street in Dhaka, when I saw a motionless, red-stained dog in the middle of the street. The dog was yelping to breathe and fighting for its life. It was a horrible sight to bear. When I stepped over to help the dog, my mother quickly grabbed my arm and took me to the department store across the street. After all, in the streets of Bangladesh, this was not a new sight—a dying dog is not even worth a blink to many. But it left a big impact on me. I knew if I had stayed to help this dog I might have saved its life.

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I carried this horrible experience with me for a long time. As I was growing up, I was introverted and shy. I did not have any confidence. I had struggled with conveying my ideas and communicating with others. However, I could not forget that image of the dying dog lying in the streets and wanted to do something about it. In 10th grade, I decided to take action and start an Animal Rights Club in my high school. I wanted to promote animal rights and prevent events like what I saw in Bangladesh.

Helping Pets—and Myself

The first meeting that I organized was nerve wracking. It was the first time I had to take on a leadership role and I felt a lot of pressure. However, when I started speaking in front of my peers my fear suddenly disappeared. The students in the meeting shared a goal with me—the desire to stop cruelty to animals. We outlined our future goals and action steps. We all agreed that we had to raise funds to support our club.

By holding bake sales and selling fruit snacks we were able to raise $1,000 and we donated it to the ASPCA. We also volunteered at Bideawee, an animal rescue shelter; we raised money, donated toys, food, and bedding, and helped care for the animals and find safe homes for them.

As a result of creating the Animal Rights Club, I became a more outgoing and assertive person who is able to voice her ideas. I learned that if I want to make changes in my life I need to go out and take the first steps. The confidence that I gained through creating this club has taught me to take on fear directly and not run away from obstacles. I am very excited for this new chapter of my life where I will be able to speak up and contribute on a larger scale in college.

2nd Prize
Where I Want to Be

Lena Hu, Chapel Hill, NC
“Mm,” I inhale the rich scent of French onion soup cooking in the kitchen behind me. Outside, people are having a conversation, their warm breath creating white puffs in the crisp, cold air.

The soup kitchen is full today—families are crammed into every corner of the big square dining room. Little children in puffy jackets shriek and laugh as they zoom about the tables. My fellow Student Action Board members bump past me as they chop celery, blend fragrant garlic and spices together, and peel potatoes and carrots for chicken noodle soup. The door creaks open, and another family comes in, bringing in a chilly gust of air. As I look around at my friends, I realize that we have instinctively fallen into a natural work rhythm. Surrounded by delicious aromas, comfortable discussions, and the warmth and light of the room, I feel at ease. As I begin to dice some onions, my mind wanders to my past experiences as a member of the Student Action Board of Durham.

I first joined the board as a sophomore, excited to work with other kids and contribute to the community. The board’s concept of a group of teens who led their own community service projects appealed to me. The open discussion about the problems facing Durham, the free rein to choose what organizations to work with, the ability to run our own meetings—I loved that, for once, we were in charge of everything, not adults.

When I was elected president of the board, I was overjoyed. Now, I had an even more direct avenue through which I could create positive change in my community. I dedicated myself to striking a balance between leader and listener, making sure that everyone’s opinions were heard. I brainstormed new ideas for service projects, from bagging school supplies for elementary students to reusing old glass bottles as flower jars.

I knew we weren’t going to change the city in one night. However, each volunteer project we did took us one step closer to crafting the city that we wanted to see—one with more resources and fewer people in need. That felt incredibly good.

“French onion soup—INCOMING!” The booming voice of Chef Laura snaps me out of my musings. She hands me the steaming pot of soup, and I begin to ladle it into the mismatched assortment of bowls in front of me. Ian, a fellow board member, helps me out. Smiling, I realize that I am perfectly content where I am. Standing there, supporting my community, is exactly where I’m supposed to be.

3rd Prize
Returning the Favor

M.B., 17, Plantation High School, Plantation, FL
After my father was released from jail for domestic violence and child abuse, he stalked my family—breaking into our home on multiple occasions. I had to move in the middle of the night because the restraining orders weren’t working. I testified against the person who was always supposed to be there for me. I became homeless and lived wherever someone would let me and my family have floor space for the night. I had meals at shelters and all of my belongings were left behind. In the middle of all this was my 8th grade dance.

Everyone was going, but I didn’t think it was possible for me; we couldn’t afford food, or a home, let alone a formal dress. Then I learned about Becca’s Closet, an organization that collects formal dresses and accessories for underprivileged women. They got me a dress, enabling me to attend the event like any other girl in my grade. Knowing there was an organization out there that cared about my well-being inspired me. I felt a civic obligation to return the favor.

Upon entering high school, I immediately got involved. The more community service I did, the more self-worth I felt. My father said if we left him we’d be nothing. How was I nothing when I was changing other people’s lives in a positive way? I was doing tons of miscellaneous community service, but I wanted more. I decided to take on a whole project.

My Mission

I thought back to when Becca’s Closet helped me, and I realized what I was meant to do. I met with administration to discover how to start my own chapter.

Filling all the paperwork out was difficult. But the hardest part was getting the word out about what I was doing. The more dresses donated, the bigger the impact. Besides school announcements, I drafted flyers and went around to explain the program face-to-face. Local restaurants, schools—you name it, I was there. Soon enough, we had tons of donations. I met with my school’s social worker and distributed the dresses to low-income girls in my school. The leftovers were taken to Becca’s Closet locations nearby.

The most memorable part was seeing the girls’ faces after they were presented with the dresses. Their smiles lit up from cheek to cheek. Like any girl, they tried on multiple dresses, putting on a fashion show as they looked back at themselves in the mirror. It made me feel so good about what I was doing, and the impact was right in front of my eyes.

This year I am training a select group of underclassmen to keep the program going after I leave. I plan to open a chapter in whichever college I attend.

Homecoming and prom are events students look forward to. Becca’s Closet lets young women of different backgrounds or circumstances enjoy those events. When you show someone they have worth, they can do great things. Becca’s Closet did that for me. I hope I can have the same effect on others.

Contest #230 - Honorable Mentions
Georgina Aaduasre, Ashley Armesto, Abasenia-Joie Asuquo, Haylee Austin, Mohsen Awada, Tiana Barnwell, Malaysia Batista, Brooklyn Brown, Jerry Cardenas, Taylor Michelle Carter, Hallie Chen, Abby Dailey, Darrayiah Davis, Erika Diaz, Erica Diaz-Rodriguez, Emily Dressel, Danielle Duncan, Juliana Durrant, Rachel Enggasser, Ruiting Feng, Wisdom George, Moriah Gibson, Jake Gildemeister, Bradley Giordano, Kamilah Gittens, Ilana Gruber, Noushin Hasan, Jada Vyrene Hester, Lillie Hester, Sabrina Hoagland, Nizan Howard, Inna Inic, Claire Giraudo, Summer Holland, Shalaya James, Jamie Jason, Marie Jean-Claude, Evonne Jimenez, Victoria Johnson, Kadiata Kaba, Yaqub Kassoo, Adrienne Kennedy, Sophie Khan, Milana Khaitova, Kayla Kimbrell, Sandra Kwakye, Emily Livingston, Alden Liang, Jessica Mata, Ceraya McLeod, Amanda Medearis, Yesmi Melendez, Leann Mengelkoch, Erick Mercado, D’Audra Metoyer, Conrad Mills, Odalis Morales, Andrew Nakatsuka, Patrick Newcombe, Andrei Nichols, Genesis Marie Ortiz, Keshreeyaji Oswal, Lily Otchere, Gabriel Otuokere, Kyleigh K. Overholt, Anna Parai, Makenna Phillips, Alicia Rajcoomar, Armando Ramirez Jr., Kaitlyn Randall, Liz Ryburn, Mario Sanchez, Laura Saturnino, Elora Jeanne Scamardo, Juliana Serur, Pei Shan, Peter Simpson, Danielle Sobel, Lisette Solis, Daniel Sternesky, Gabrielle Surles, Joshua Thomas, Breanda Thornton, Isabella Trasolini, Missy Villins, Joanne Wang, Sarah Waro, Emily Weaver, Simeon Webb, Monica Whalen, Stormie Wilcowski, Bryna Wilson, Amanda Witkowski, Rebecca Wolfson, Elaine Zhuo.

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