Last Friday was a little bit different than most Fridays on "Crew 1" - Bronx Community Solutions' own community service crew. On any typical day, we work with 10-20 clients. Our Coordinator of Community service manages multiple projects (along with two Crew Supervisors and the use of a passenger van and clean-up supplies): painting over graffiti in partnership with the NYPD, Community Boards, Business Improvement Districts, and local residents; cleaning up around the 161st Street area near the Criminal Court; sorting donated supplies at Worldvision's Bronx Storehouse; or working closely with the Department of Sanitation to address high priority conditions like step streets.
This day we would be helping out Catholic Charities with a major renovation of their Bronx Thriftstore. We were partnering with Rebuilding Together NYC to do a big volunteer day at their temporary location. Rebuilding Together is helping Catholic Charities completely renovate their permanent location in an important commercial area in the Bronx known as "The Hub." When the construction is completed, store designers from Macy's will lay out the retail space, and there will be conference and office space for community meetings, job training, and case managers. When Matt Lang, from Rebuilding Together, describes the project he says: "The new store will be really nice. Just because you don't have a lot of money, doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to shop in a nice environment."
During our intake process, we picked about 20-30 clients, after explaining what the project would be and giving them the option to sign up for a special project instead of our regular community service options. Our highly experienced intake staff made sure to pick clients with a good attitude who wanted to do something positive for their community service, and who were functional, domiciled and not facing serious health, substance abuse, mental health or anger management issues.
Even though our client's were performing mandatory community service, they were treated like regular volunteers, Bronx residents and community members. We started the day by explaining the goals of the project, signing in, and handing out tee-shirts. Once we began, everyone got involved and worked hard.
We were sorting and moving boxes, taking them out to the street and loading them into trucks. Everyone pitched in - many people helped organize and working together in groups got a lot done quickly and efficiently. I was especially happy to observe that one young man I thought might give us an attitude problem positioned himself right in the middle of the job in an organizing everything that was being loaded onto the truck. After we all shared pizza and soda for lunch, we finished up the work (and made one more visit the next day to finish up). Some of our clients requested information about other ways to get involved volunteering with Rebuilding Together or Catholic Charities.
I was happy to deliver lots of valuable labor to a community-based organization that's doing valuable work in the Bronx, and I was also happy to deliver a great, meaningful day of community service to our clients.