There’s a monster in there!

Aaron Rossini, a 2019 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, shares this blog post about his experiences teaching through the ASTEP Arts at Refugee Youth Summer Academy. A team of 16 ASTEP Volunteer Teaching Artists are leading the creative arts classes at the International Rescue Committee’s Refugee Youth Summer Academy, which supports the personal growth, cultural adjustment, and education of multicultural refugee youth and helps them successfully transition into the US school system. Through the arts, these young people learn they have what it takes to succeed no matter the obstacles, which is key to breaking cycles of poverty.

The theme for RYSA 2019 is PRIDE!

RYSA’s Final Week

By: Aaron Rossini, 2019 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

Heading into the final week of RYSA is, in all honesty, bittersweet. It’s sad to know that our time with the students is coming to an end, and it is inspiring to see how much they’ve grown in what seems like such a small amount of time. I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve been able to accomplish, and I am constantly wondering whether or not we could’ve done more. It’s a strange push and pull that teachers need to live inside; we need to meet the students where they are and hope to guide them a little past their comfort zones. We accomplished so much, and it feels like we can do so much more. There is always work to be done.

I want to share three moments that define this summer for me, and I hope can offer some insight into my experience to you:

 

“I want to be a better actor, so I can be a hero.” – Lower School 3
At the beginning of every class, we ask our students to set intentions or goals for the day. Miss Jasmeene or I might ask something like: “How do you want to grow today?” or “What do you want to achieve before the end of class today?”

On our third class, the Monday of our second week, we asked our students to shout out one goal they want to accomplish. This was met with a flurry of responses, some genuine, some goofy, and one in particular stood out to me. “Mr. Aaron, I want to learn to be a better actor, so I can be a hero,” said a girl in our Lower School 3 class. She went on to say that boys always get to be the superheroes, and she wanted to become a better actor, so she could be a superhero and save the world. To anyone wondering about the value of storytelling, this young woman offered us the case in point.

 

“Can I tell him in French, so he understands?” – Lower School 2
We often break the students up into smaller, more intimate groups to work on storytelling activities. On the Wednesday of week 3, we had the students break out into three groups of 5 or 6 to work on filling out some word sheets for their Mad-Libs.

Many of the students were super-charged-up at this chance to show off their vocabulary skills. Others were a little intimidated at the prospect of coming up with Verbs, Nouns, or Adjectives. One particular student, whose primary language is French, was very overwhelmed by the activity. When I engaged with him about the task, he shut down even more. This came as a surprise to me, since I had clocked him as able to understand most of my instructions in the previous classes. I looked up for some help, and there was one of his classmates and friends with a big smile on his face, “Mr. Aaron, can I tell him in French, so he understands? Then he will be able to do it in English.”

“Of course and thank you for the help!” Relieved and rescued by a 9-year-old, I saw this young man explain the entire activity– every last detail– in French, then translate it into English, patiently helping his classmate. I was so moved by this demonstration of empathy and patience, that I almost lost track of the fact that the first boy was now deeply engaged and enjoying the activity all thanks to his friend’s compassion and understanding.

 

“Mr. Aaron, you gotta make sure there isn’t a monster in there!” – Lower School 1
There’s a fun storytelling game called “Box on a Shelf” that involves a Silent pantomime where we pull a box off of a shelf, open it, and act out what’s inside. It can be an ice cream cone or a kitten or a rocket ship, anything the performer wants to make. Toward the end of class, the final day or Week 2, I performed a “Box on the Shelf” that had a monster in it. The monster chased me around the room, and I needed to solicit help from my fellow teachers to get it back in the box. Naturally, this was a huge hit, and all the students had tons of fun. Well, almost all of the students…

The following Monday, I started the day with another round of “Box on the Shelf”. As I reached up to pull a box off the shelf, one of the students screamed at the top of her lungs, “NO! MR. AARON THERE’S A MONSTER IN THERE!!!” I stopped dead in my tracks and looked at her, “Mr. Aaron, you gotta make sure there isn’t a monster in there!” What could I do? Well, I got the whole group to circle around the box and keep their eyes peeled and their monster-catching-hands ready. Fortunately, there wasn’t a monster in the box. This time there were popsicles, and we all had a treat!

 

This was my second time as a RYSA instructor, my first time as a Lead-Teacher, and my first time working exclusively with the Lower School students. I’m grateful for my time, my students, the IRC, ASTEP, my co-teachers, my peer mentors, my teammates, and for the Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship. I hope this summer is a proper dedication to her memory, and I am honored to have shared in it.

Announcement: 2019 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship Recipients for ASTEP Arts at the Refugee Youth Summer Academy!

ASTEP is thrilled to announce that Jasmeene Francois and Aaron Rossini have been selected as recipients of the 2019 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship for their work with ASTEP Arts at Refugee Youth Summer Academy!

In partnership with the International Rescue Committee, ASTEP leads the creative arts component for the Refugee Youth Summer Academy (RYSA), a six-week summer camp which supports the personal growth, cultural adjustment, and education of refugee youth and helps them successfully transition into the NYC school system.

Through a team of 18 Volunteer Teaching Artists, ASTEP designs, implements and oversees RYSA’s creative arts classes, which focus on visual art, dance, music, and storytelling for 100-130 refugee youth aged 5-25 years old.

The Fellowship is a unique opportunity for individuals who closely model Jennifer’s values to use the arts to celebrate refugee youth’s strengths and build up their unique areas for growth. Jasmeene and Aaron will collaborate as co-teachers for the Storytelling Class for our youngest students in the Lower School program. Together, they will use the arts to help youth affected by refugee status break down the barriers they face by building the skills they require to create a new life for themselves in their new home.


“Thank you so much! I am truly honored to be nominated as a Fellow. I also feel honored to work with students in honor of Jennifer’s legacy. I hope to pass on the love for the arts, especially drama, to the young people we’ll be working with this summer. Thank you again so much. I am so touched by this and inspired by Jennifer’s life and work.” Jasmeene Francois, 2019 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

“I’m honored to be named one of the 2019 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellows. Jennifer was a force for good in this world, and I humbled to carry on her legacy this summer at the Refugee Youth Summer Academy. I want to thank Jennifer’s family and ASTEP for thinking me worthy of this opportunity.” Aaron Rossini, 2019 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

 

 

 

Volunteer Spotlight: Karina Sindicich

This week, our Volunteer Spotlight is on Karina Sindicich! Why do you volunteer with ASTEP? I volunteer with ASTEP for so many reasons!! ASTEP is such an incredible organization, and with the many groups that they reach out to, you can really feel the actual effect and benefit of our time together. But it isn’t just the youth I’ve worked with, (in Brooklyn, India, Harlem) but the other volunteers and staff create such a warm and loving community for each other!! You feel valued and loved as an artist and human, and you’re fully encouraged and supported to share the best of yourself in every moment!! ASTEP cares wholeheartedly about each community they work with and work hard on bringing artists that serve each community’s needs in the best way possible!! How long have you been volunteering with ASTEP? I have been lucky enough to be volunteering with ASTEP since April of [last] year! And I don’t think I’m ever gonna stop! 🙂 What programs have you been a part of with ASTEP? I have volunteered as a part of the WIN shelter programs, CASES program and I was honored to be a part of the Shanti Bhavan program in India of June [last] year! We were in SB for nearly a month, teaching all different kinds of arts programs for the graduation showcase! It was and always will be, one of the most treasured and life changing moments of my life! What is your favorite memory from an ASTEP program? There are so many!!! But I think one of the major highlights for me would have to be watching the graduation showcase in Shanti Bhavan [last] year. Watching the children perform in front of Dr. George, their teachers, family and friends was incredibly emotional for me! You see all these exceptionally bright, talented and beautiful children whom you’ve gotten to know so well over the last few weeks, and seen work so hard, be able to own their talent and shine so brightly in front of all their peers! It was truly something so special and I hold the experience very dear to my heart. I will never forget it! I hope to watch many more graduation showcases in the future 🙂

Thank you, Karina, for volunteering with us at ASTEP! Your warm, generous and positive energy makes everyone smile! We cannot do this work without you.

To learn more about ways YOU can get involved with ASTEP at Shanti Bhavan, click here.

For all Volunteer Inquiries, email ASTEP’S Manager of Programs, Sami Manfredi, at sami@asteponline.org

 ]]>

VOLUNTEER WITH US AT REFUGEE YOUTH SUMMER ACADEMY!

Come join us and be a part of the Refugee Youth Summer Academy – RYSA! Partnering with the International Rescue Committee, RYSA is a 6-week summer academy that welcomes youth seeking refuge in the US into their new lives in NYC. ASTEP Teaching Artists at RYSA offer classes in Storytelling, Music, Dance, Visual Arts, and Filmmaking. An ASTEP at RYSA classroom focuses on school readiness, English language skill building, and coping skills – all through the arts! Our classrooms embrace our unique differences and give students an outlet for self expression and fun, all while setting up a routine for them to be best prepared for an NYC public school setting in the Fall. Come join us and create a classroom catered to growth, acceptance, and endless possibilities! We use art as a tool to show students that they can be proud of who they are and thrive!  

APPLY NOW!

Tentative Dates: June 29th – August 16th

Application deadline: May 1st

Location: New York City

Who: You! All artists with a passion for making a difference!

People of color, LGBTQ+, those with disabilities, and anyone excited to work with us are strongly encouraged to apply.

Stipends available based on position and experience.

Email Sami Manfredi at sami@asteponline.org or give us a ring at 212.921.1227 to learn more!

Photo by Brielle Bonetti

   ]]>

2019 ASTEP COLOR BALL

 

JOIN US FOR OUR 2nd ANNUAL GALA + DINNER!

APRIL 29TH, 2019

54 BELOW

6:00PM VIP COCKTAILS

7:15PM DOORS OPEN FOR PERFORMANCE + DINNER

Mary-Mitchell and ASTEP will celebrate our work with this year’s Artist/Activist Honoree, Laura Benanti, for her collaboration on SINGING YOU HOME: Children’s Songs for Family Reunification, and our Partner Honoree, Lutheran Social Services of New York, for the empowering arts programs we provide for children who arrive in the United States as unaccompanied minors. Intimate, engaging, and sure to tug at your heartstrings, come celebrate ASTEP and the art that it brings to youth from deeply underserved communities in the U.S. and around the world. All proceeds benefit ASTEP’s mission of using the arts as a vehicle to teach young people the social emotional skills they need to be the best versions of themselves. The 2019 Color Ball Host Committee: Dr. Keith Bell (Chair), Steven Farkas, Jaimie Mayer, Stephen Oremus, Susan Vargo, and Georgia Stitt (2018 ASTEP Artist/Activist Honoree)

For more information, or to learn about sponsorship opportunities, contact Katherine Nolan Brown at katherine@asteponline.org or 212-921-1227.

Purchase tickets: 54BELOW.COM

*Ticket price includes dinner, drinks, and an exciting show. **VIP tickets include premium seat location, as well as an exclusive cocktail hour prior to the performance. ***Performers are subject to change.

]]>

Gabby Serrano's blog


Gabby Serrano, a Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing blog posts about her experiences teaching with ASTEP. These programs give children access to the transforming power of the arts by bringing performing and visual artists from the Broadway and NYC community to after-school and in-school programs. ASTEP partners with schools and community organizations serving youth affected by the justice system, incarceration, gun violence, homelessness, immigration status, systemic poverty, and HIV/AIDS. Through the arts, these young people learn they have what it takes to succeed no matter the obstacles, which is key to breaking cycles of poverty.

Five years ago, I was 25, an undergrad student, and working full time at a NYC Emergency Department. You’d think that that was exciting enough, however I still felt like something was missing. I needed to have a spiritual awakening, a revelation, something! I was having a mid-20’s-life-crisis. Okay, maybe not, but I did come to the conclusion that I needed to do something that felt more fulfilling and meaningful to me.

I have a feeling my inner 10-year-old self was sparking this thought process, saying something like, “Yo, didn’t you love art? What happened with that?” As a young person living in the city, surviving took time and effort. Like many others, responsibilities for survival were prioritized at the time. Before I knew it, I had altogether put aside my hobby, my outlet, my passion. It was what I’d later find out had been missing.

After learning more about myself and how vital art actually felt towards my overall well-being, I began to push myself to create a little something every day. A friend of mine had seen my work, and reached out to me regarding an amazing experience she had teaching music to youth in Florida. She said it was with an organization known as ASTEP. Acronyms, oy, however, this one was easy to remember with a seriously deep and unforgettable mission, Artists Striving To End Poverty, I mean Yas! Here for it. Poverty in America translates to oppression, and as ASTEP defines it, “as having a lack of choice”. It is something I believe we all should be working to combat. Okay, I digress. So, my friend offered to connect me with staff to learn more about the work that they do and to see if I may be interested. Was this one of those moments when the universe presents just the right opportunities!? Sure felt like it. Naturally, I said yes. I mean the timing was impeccable. Anyway, I had an interview with folks at ASTEP and a few months after that initial conversation, I was flying out to Bangalore, India.

Talk about life changing. I had such an amazing time facilitating art groups, collaborating with other artists and educators, and participating in activities such as The Arts Olympics. This was the first of several volunteer opportunities I’ve had with ASTEP. Each population that I’ve worked with, I’ve learned from. I’ve been able to interact with youth that are experiencing hardships because they are experiencing situations that they have little to no control over. It can be particularly helpful for this population to access the arts as a resource to help express their feelings in a holistic and restorative way. Even providing a safe space to play art games has given youth the opportunity to freely express themselves, which is empowering.

I literally worked with a student last week that was quite introverted, and didn’t feel comfortable introducing themselves or even sharing their name. As we began to design our personalized t-shirts, this young person began to engage with me, asking me questions and sharing stories. They ultimately created a beautiful T-shirt, which they didn’t believe they could do at first. Once the activity was completed this young person was so proud of themselves and their work. In fact, they didn’t want to leave it at the site to dry, so they carried it home in a “safe way” as to not smear the paint, so that they could share their work with their mom. It was their first time getting the chance to partake in this sort of activity.

I am grateful to be a part of a community of artists that share such strong beliefs in the transformational power of the arts. These beautiful moments are able to take place thanks to ASTEP connecting artists with youth and communities in need. As I said, life changing.

It is the beginning of 2019 and as always, I’m looking forward to the upcoming opportunities and experiences ahead.

Peace & solitude, Gabby

 ]]>

Volunteer Spotlight: Devin Lloyd

This week, our Volunteer Spotlight is on Devin Lloyd! Why do you volunteer with ASTEP? I believe in the limitless possibilities of the arts to connect us and to inspire creativity, confidence and joy in young people. How long have you been volunteering with ASTEP? 2 years! What programs have you been a part of with ASTEP? Arts-in-Action with enFamilia, Win NYC, Passages Academy, and CHOICES What is your favorite memory from an ASTEP program? It is a tradition that campers cry on the final day of camp at En Familia. But on the last day in our musical theater class, our campers tearfully told each other how thankful they were for the family they had made and praised each of their friends for their work in the performance the night before. It was such a reminder of the strength of the family that is created when we make art together.

Thank you, Devin, for volunteering with us at ASTEP! You share your heart with every community you are in, and we cannot do our work without you!

To learn more about ways YOU can get involved with ASTEP and Arts-in-Action, click here!

For all Volunteer Inquiries, email ASTEP’S Manager of Programs, Sami Manfredi, at sami@asteponline.org

 ]]>

VOLUNTEER WITH US AT ART-IN-ACTION!

Come be a part of ASTEP’s longest partnership!  ASTEP is proud to partner with enFAMILIA – a community organization that builds healthy family relationships among immigrant, migrant, and farm worker communities of South Florida – for more than 15 years! ASTEP Volunteer Teaching Artists will join a local team to support a 4 week arts-based summer camp in Homestead, Florida! Camp activities have included everything from making ice cream to staging a mini-production of Annie to collaborating on amazing murals! An AIA camp day is a day full of fun! ASTEP Artists will lead classes and large group activities, assist in camp management, and truly be a part of the life of this Florida community. Being a part of this camp is an opportunity to be a part of a new family. Share your art, and share in the AIA love!

APPLY NOW!

Dates: June 2019

Application Deadline: April 1, 2019

Location: Homestead, Florida

Who: You! All artists with a passion for making a difference!

People of color, LGBTQ+, those with disabilities, and anyone excited to work with us are strongly encouraged to apply.

** Housing, flights, and food are provided for all Volunteer Teaching Artists ** Email Sami Manfredi at sami@asteponline.org or give us a ring at 212.921.1227 to learn more!

   ]]>

Volunteer Spotlight: Midori Samson

This week, our Volunteer Spotlight is on Midori Samson! Get to know Midori, and learn about her experiences with ASTEP below.

I grew up in Portland, Oregon and that’s where I continue to call home. I went to Juilliard for my undergraduate degree in bassoon, which is where I got involved with ASTEP in 2010. Amid my college stress and burnout, I needed to get back in touch with my inner child-Midori and get back to why I started music in the first place. Meeting ASTEP and the children we work with was the perfect remedy. I’m so thankful that ASTEP is so connected to the Juilliard community.

Upon graduation, I moved to Austin where I got my master’s degree in bassoon at the University of Texas. During my brief 2 years in Austin, I organized an ASTEP chapter with some friends and we hosted a camp with a local youth shelter for two weeks! At that point, it was probably the proudest thing I’d ever done. 

For two years after going to grad school, I lived in Chicago, and performed in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago (the Chicago Symphony’s training orchestra) and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. I thrived in my position in Civic and that was completely because of the work I had previously done with ASTEP! The position involved simultaneously performing in the orchestra and curating musical community engagement projects around the city. I helped organized residencies at schools, shelters, a prison, and at a refugee center. I was living my best teaching-artist life, and constantly fell back on the training I got as an ASTEP teaching artist and facilitator. 

My ASTEP experiences continue to influence all parts of my career, musicianship, and life. I co-founded my own organization, Trade Winds Ensemble and our music curriculum is very much inspired by ASTEP teaching philosophies. In addition, I just travelled to China to perform and teach with Yo-Yo Ma, where he asked us to always use our child-like imaginations to perform music (a skill I feel I’m an expert at thanks to ASTEP!) Currently, I’m working on a doctorate degree in bassoon, and I’m minoring in social work, to help me improve even more what I can contribute in an ASTEP classroom. 

Through moving all over the country and changing situations so frequently, ASTEP has been one of the few constants in my life. Because of ASTEP, I have internalized the value that my music has in the world. I love myself for what I can offer with my art form!

Thank you, Midori for volunteering with ASTEP! We could not do our work without incredible people like you.

To learn more about ways YOU can get involved with ASTEP, email our Manager of Programs, Sami Manfredi, at sami@asteponline.org 

   ]]>