Giving back: Metro students open their hearts to children in need in Jersey City

Metro alt break group 2016

Editor’s Note: For three days over spring break in March, 15 students and three chaperones from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Metropolitan Campus volunteered with low-income children at The Nurturing Place, a York Street Project Child Development Center, in Jersey City, N.J. FDU students spent quality time with the children — ranging in age from infant to five years old — playing, talking and caregiving. The group also repaired some of the nonprofit’s playground area and built toys for the children.

“Some of the students had never worked with children, so it definitely broadened their horizons. When students think community service, they think Habitat for Humanity, or cleaning up a river, but this was more emotional and vulnerable, making this impact in the community,” says Gurdip Singh, who’s pursuing his MBA in management and entrepreneurship and is the graduate assistant for student involvement in the Office of Student Life. He expects some of the relationships between the students and children will endure. “Hopefully, we can provide mentorship as they grow up, and show them a good path to follow.”

The trip also included a detour to Ellis Island, so students could learn about University founder Peter Sammartino’s role in the restoration of the cultural landmark. “We wanted to make sure the trip included FDU pride,” says Singh, who coordinated the whole experience. Students saw the plaque honoring Sammartino’s efforts at Ellis Island. They liked that, and hearing stories about Sammartino from Paul Dunphy, head reference librarian at FDU’s Frank Giovatto Library, says Singh.

“I want to lay a foundation for the alternative spring break program here. Hopefully, we can get recognized, and take it to the next level,” Singh adds. “Maybe (eventually) we can do a local trip in the fall and go overseas in the spring.”

Volunteers Malaysia Morrison, a junior majoring in psychology from Newburgh, N.Y., and Nafijur Dalim, a freshman majoring in computer science from Hackensack, N.J., reflect on this alternative spring break trip in their own words:

By Malaysia Morrison

This year I told myself two things: (1) I’m going to be involved in my school and (2) I’m going to get involved in the community. I saw participating in the alternative spring break trip as an opportunity to do both.

I didn’t know what to expect my first time participating in an alternative break. The only thing I really hoped was to make a positive impact on someone’s life.

The first day we arrived to volunteer at The Nurturing Place, a York Street Project Child Development Center, the director asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to be with the infants. I immediately jumped on the opportunity, but not because I had experience working with babies. In fact, I’ve never worked with babies at all; however, I wanted to challenge myself and I’m glad I did.

I absolutely adored working with the babies. It brought me so much joy just to see them happy. The group that I worked with in the baby room was amazing, too. We immediately were in sync with each other. When one person was struggling, another was always there to help.

The group as a whole was amazing as well. We all had a good time with each other and in our downtime it was nothing but laughs and fun. We all went on a trip to Ellis Island, and it was great to have the opportunity to visit a historical landmark I had never been to before.

Though the point of the alternative break is to perform community service, it didn’t feel like community service at all. I was having fun playing and taking care of the babies, talking with the staff, and being around my group.

I definitely got more out of this experience than I expected. It’s a great feeling to help out others out of the kindness of your heart. A couple of us, me included, plan to go back next month to volunteer again. I am grateful that I was granted the opportunity to participate in the trip. Instead of staying at home, doing nothing, I was able to make a difference in people’s lives. It was honestly the most fun I had over the break, and I would encourage everyone to do alternative spring break at least once during their college career.

By Nafijur Dalim

Alternative spring break was satisfying because I was able to meet new people and volunteer at the same time. Being a commuter student, establishing friendships can prove difficult, but I feel that the alternative spring break program has been a great leap forward.

Upon entering The Nurturing Place, a York Street Project Child Development Center, we were warmly greeted by Nikki, a staff member, who told us that there were three groups of children requiring our attention: a group of infants, one of toddlers, and then older kids, but under the age of five. Given the liberty to choose and the ability to switch later, I immediately decided that the toddlers would receive my care first.

We entered the toddler section at around 11 a.m. and the children were eating their lunch. I joined them, began to talk, while occasionally wiping dirty mouths or feeding empty ones. This is when I met Kimberly, one of the youngest toddlers in the group. After all the children finish eating, they have naptime. Kimberly held my hand and made me follow her to nap time. With the aid of nursery rhymes, the children all eventually fell asleep while the volunteers coaxed them with back rubs and encouraging “shhh’s.”

Once the toddlers were all asleep, the group and I departed for our lunch break. We conversed over lunch, and before we knew it, it was time to head back to the nurturing center. Upon reentering the toddler section, I was greeted by big hugs from all the young ones, which was absolutely adorable. My attention was divided among reading the children books, playing, and dissolving small arguments over the same toys. The whole time, Kimberly followed me and never left my side. She quickly became so attached to me, that when it was time for us to leave the center, she began to cry.

The following days followed a similar pattern: enter the center, greet the children, give the children attention, and leave the center.

Aside from the volunteering aspect, the second greatest take away from the trip is the open socializing. I’ve met wonderful people, and learned a great deal from them. We planned awesome lunches and dinners, and visited the museum at Ellis Island and learned a little bit more about our corner of history.

Overall, the trip was a ten out of ten, and I definitely recommend that anyone interested in being part of something bigger, apply for the trip next year. The trip gave meaning to my spring break, and I’ve experienced a change in myself, while also making a difference in the community.