I grew up on a street where I knew every single one of my neighbors. My best friends were only a few yards away, and there were block parties for every occasion. I made the move from Alexandria, Virginia to New York City two months ago. Now I live in the largest city in the country, a place where knowing your neighbors seems impossible.
I found the hustle and bustle exciting, but I was curious to see how community was possible in a city so big. I soon realized it was unfair to compare NYC to Alexandria. They’re different places, and deserve to be viewed through their own unique lens. The daily random acts of kindness I’ve seen since moving here proved to me that New York has a beautiful yet silent sense of community. If you blink, you might miss it. Tired train riders giving up their seats to those who are a little older, and look a little more tired. A stranger holds the other side of a stroller, and makes it up the long flight of stairs. The mother gives a grateful nod, and they go their separate ways. Selfless acts that go unnoticed by the rest of the world, but inherently promotes the spirit of the city.
I’m spending my year volunteering for Rose and Blum Residence - a non secure placement that provides long term residential and supportive services to youth placed there through Family Court. These residences act as an alternative to youth incarceration. My placement site focuses on trauma informed care for the youth placed with us. Specifically, they use the Sanctuary Model and the Missouri Model. The whole idea behind the Missouri Model is that we’re teaching youth to not only hold a higher social emotional capacity, but to also be able to share it with their own community. The respect youth hold for adults in the street falls short. It’s far more powerful for a peer to be able to influence the group around them.
Youth are learning how to explain why something is wrong in their own language, and evoke change in behavior for themselves and their friends. I’ve seen it happen multiple times in the house with the boys. A youth will get agitated and start cursing out a Youth Development Counselor. His peers will check him, tell him to chill, and speak with him until they reach a conclusion calmly. While that may sound simple, a lot of youth don’t have friends that have the ability to deescalate a situation. The ability to ease a threatening situation can be life saving in the streets where these kids will inevitably go after release. It could be the difference between them safely going home at the end of the night or being rearrested, or worse.
Community is powerful. It has the ability to influence so much about a person. Their habits, their language, their drive, their trust in others, their future. New York City holds its own defining characteristics to how it promotes community within its boroughs, within its residents. I value what I was given growing up now more than ever, but I’m also learning to value this new community I’m a part of - and I’m excited to see what I can bring to it.
Written by, Caileigh Pattisall Washington Heights Community '21-'22