Volunteer Spotlight: Ryan Kim

This week, our Volunteer Spotlight is on Ryan Kim!

Why do you volunteer with ASTEP?
At first going to Africa to work with a unique community sounded very exciting, which it certainly was, but as I got deeper into the experience of ASTEP/artsINSIDEOUT in my four years with the program, the impact on me grew. This work truly gives me life—creatively and spiritually. The relationships I have formed at Nkosi’s Haven with the students, mothers, teachers and staff have truly changed me. Creation is on the agenda every minute of every day.

What is your favorite memory from an ASTEP program?

It happens every year. Putting together a devised piece of theatre in a few weeks is no easy task. There is always the question of how/will it get done? It always does somehow, which is truly a miracle to behold. But it’s the little, fleeting moments that affect me the deepest. To observe a young person see their best friend, their younger sibling, their mom in a new light is inspiring. Watching Wesley (a magical kid) watching his grandmother proudly telling her story on stage in front of an audience is a moment I’ll never forget. And to see students begin to see themselves with fresh eyes, more loving and compassionate, moving from “can’t” to “can” is like watching hope and love in action.

Why is arts education important?
Without arts education, a powerful tool for growth and creativity would be missing and a vital outlet for positive self expression wouldn’t exist. When survival is the daily focus, the arts can easily be brushed aside. When we thoughtfully shine a spotlight on the creative side, survival suddenly has a new ally, friend and advisor and a new world of possibility is discovered or created.

What do you hope your students gain from your time with them?
I hope that students will leave thinking more strategically, focusing on their abilities more than their obstacles. I hope they care for themselves and their community more compassionately and with great love.

What have you learned from your students?
So much more than I could ever hope to teach them.

Any advice to share for new ASTEP volunteers?
Go in with an open mind and open heart. Inspiration just needs a little coaxing to ignite, then all things are all possible. Enjoy every moment!

Thank you, Ryan, for all that you do! This work is possible because of people like you!



Volunteer Spotlight: Kelly Burns

This week, our Volunteer Spotlight is on Kelly Burns!

Why do you volunteer with ASTEP?
I volunteered with ASTEP because I loved their mission. Art education is so important, and art can be a powerful tool to grow community.

What is your favorite memory from an ASTEP program?
My favorite memory from this past summer is our first rehearsal with all of our sound equipment. After the last song ended they were best essay writing service jumping up and down with huge smiles. The students were able to hear what all of their practice and teamwork had turned into, and they were ecstatic to show everyone at the final performance.

Why is arts education important?
Arts education is important because it teaches confidence, empathy, creativity and imagination. The arts have the power to build the self esteem and spirit of a person, bring a community together, and inspire a greater world.

How has art impacted/inspired you?
The arts inspire me every day, from music that pumps me up in the morning to the great works of theatre that have changed my perspective on different issues. But most of all, the process of creating different types of art has brought me life long friends and colleagues and shaped me into who I am today.

What do you hope your students gain from your time with them?
When I work with students I want their biggest take away to be confidence. With ASTEP, many of the students I taught were sitting down with an instrument for the first time, and the first week of rehearsals I got a lot of “I can’t do this.” However, in the last few weeks we were having breakthroughs everyday. The best part of teaching is watching students work hard and achieve something they originally thought was impossible. I hope they learned that they are capable of anything.

What have you learned from your students?
This past summer my students taught me about community. My students ranged in age from 6 to 14 but they had no difficulty coming together and playing like a band. The younger students looked up to the older students, who found themselves in leadership positions. The community was incredible, as we had support from parents and other teachers from the first day of camp to the final performance. My students showed me just how much you can accomplish when you have the love and support of a community.

Any advice to share for new ASTEP volunteers?
My advice to future ASTEP volunteers is simply to have fun. If your students are working hard and enjoying themselves, then the art you create will reflect that.

Thank you, Kelly for your hard work and dedication! We could not do this work without you! 



Volunteer Spotlight: Michael Lunder

This week, our Volunteer Spotlight is on Michael Lunder!

Why do you volunteer with ASTEP?
I volunteer with ASTEP because volunteer work has always been a very important part of my life and I love the ASTEP approach to supplying volunteers that can help serve all kinds of local missions in various locations.

Why is arts education important?
Arts education is so important because it inspires creative thinking, problem solving, teamwork, self expression, and shows people the power of stepping out of their comfort zone and embracing new experiences and challenges!

What is your favorite memory from an ASTEP program?
Picking a favorite memory is nearly impossible, but I think one major highlight of my Shanti Bhagwan experience was watching the graduating class trying to learn how to waltz. We got to watch them grow from awkward and uncomfortable teenagers that were stumbling over each other’s feet into these blossoming, confident, young adults that held their chins high ready for anything the world had in store for them!

How has art impacted/inspired you?
Art impacted me as a teenager by giving me an outlet to express all of the feelings I was too shy to speak up about to anybody. It inspires me everyday to chase impossible dreams and follow my heart in every day situations, and it keeps the passionate fire burning inside of me.

What do you hope your students gain from your time with them?
I would truly hope my students feel empowered to find passion and happiness, gain self acceptance and feel self-worth from their time with me.

What have you learned from your students?
Every day as a teacher reminds me to embrace imperfection. It also reminds me how powerful love and kindness are, and reminds me that there’s always room for fun.

Is there any advice you would like to share for new ASTEP Volunteers?
I don’t think I’m in a place to give any advice, but I guess I’d just say to leave your mind and your heart open and embrace every moment!

Thank you, Michael, for making magic happen in our programs!
We could not do this work without you!


Volunteer Spotlight: Stephanie Hyde

This week, our Volunteer Spotlight is on Stephanie Hyde!

Why do you volunteer with ASTEP?
I believe everyone deserves access to arts education. ASTEP brings arts education to underprivileged communities, and we, as a team, strive to teach kids how to express themselves through the arts. We give students a creative outlet, and we teach them that it is accessible 365 days a year, not just when ASTEP is present.

What is your favorite memory from an ASTEP program?
Every single time we had even a moment of free time, I would have several students come up to me and say, “Miss Stephanie, can you please, please, please play your bassoon? *Air bassoon*” I love playing my bassoon, but there has been no performance that beats playing for the kids in the music room. Their enthusiasm was amazing. Practicing isn’t the same in the U.S. I miss my audience of amazing kids while I practice.

Why is arts education important?
Arts education teaches you more than facts and figures. The three C’s: collaboration, cooperation, communication are vital to the arts. The three C’s are naturally taught through doing, and they are never explicitly explained, but almost like a positive side effect to the arts. While the classes like math, English, science, etc. are important, the premise of these courses are rooted in facts, theorems, rules, and figures. While there is a technical side to the arts, it is rooted in expressionism.

How has art impacted/inspired you?
Most people within the arts communities just want to see their friends and colleagues succeed. I love being a part of a community full of kindness. There is no room in the world to bring people down, because bringing someone down does not make you any better. Nothing brings me more joy than seeing my friends and kids perform. It is so beautiful to see someone doing what they love, and it is amazing to be able to hear someone’s growth. I love being a part of a community where we love to see each other grow, progress, and succeed.

What do you hope your students gain from your time with them?
I want my students to know they should always, always perform. I firmly believe that music should be performed no matter what the level is. Music should not just be performed if it’s absolutely perfect. Music is beautiful at all stages of development and sharing your music is important. I also want my kids to know the emotional impact music can have. At the beginning of my time at SB, my kids thought the only way for music to have meaning was if the music had words. As a bassoonist, I knew that this was not true, and it was my job to collaborate with my co-teacher, Mr. Michael, to figure out how to lead the students to this conclusion on their own. By the end of camp, the students (!!) composed their own instrumental piece about what SB means to them. It was beautiful and amazing, and they made Mr. Michael and I SO proud.

What have you learned from your students?
First of all, I learned that I am terrible at riddles. The kids of SB are riddle masters. Every single student taught me something important and valuable. For every one thing I taught the students, they taught me five. Teaching and learning is an exchange, and as a teacher, you must be willing to adapt and be pushed out of your comfort zone. Going to SB, I had a huge fear of singing and playing piano in front of people. By the end of camp, I was singing in front of the class, and I was TEACHING piano lessons. The kids pushed me five miles outside of my comfort zone, and I loved every second of it.

Any advice to share for new ASTEP volunteers?
Do not go in with any expectations. Do not worry about not having anything planned beforehand. The kids will inspire you, and they will amaze you. Let your heart and your kids guide your work. (Also pack more snacks than just protein bars…I still can’t even look at one 5 months later).



Volunteer Spotlight: Leila Mire

This week, our Volunteer Spotlight is on Leila Mire!

Why do you volunteer with ASTEP?
ASTEP is one of those special places where arts education and children’s needs are put at the forefront. I volunteer with ASTEP because I love the children and the team. The currency exchanged is through endless smiles, laughter, and creativity.

Why is arts education important?
In my opinion, I have the most important job in the world. Arts education stands for everything that makes a person a contributing member of society. I don’t just teach dance. I teach creativity, acceptance, culture, and teamwork.

What is your favorite memory from an ASTEP program?
My favorite memory from ASTEP was spending the summer in Elaine, Arkansas. The complete immersion of our team into the community allowed us to fully share ourselves with the culture in an organic, beautiful way.

How has art impacted/inspired you?
Art has shaped my life in every imaginable way possible. In literature, a bildungsroman, refers to a coming of age novel. A künstlerroman is a coming of age novel through the arts. I like to say that everyone has a bildungsroman. If you’re really lucky, you get to have a künstlerroman. I’m blessed to have a künstlerroman that has allowed me to learn, grow, and become who I am through the arts. Teaching allows me to share and contribute to other künstlerromans.

What do you hope your students gain from your time with them?
I hope students grow and become more creative, inspired, passionate people. I hope to ignite a fire in them that can’t be extinguished.

What have you learned from your students?
Smiles go a long way, fort night dances are here to stay, and creativity should never be kept at bay. 😉

Is there any advice you would like to share for new ASTEP Volunteers?
You’re never “just a teacher” or “just a performer.” That mindset is so limiting. The two inform one another. Learn everything. Be open. Give space and be ready for anything and everything to happen and if you’re lucky, it will.

Thank you, Leila, for making magic happen in our programs! We could not do this work without you!





One lucky koala

Karina Sindicich, a Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing blog posts about her experiences teaching with ASTEP through our NYC program, ASTEP on STAGE!. This program 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.



There is no hiding the sheer JOY I feel every time I see my name signed up on the ASTEP program calendar! This fall was no exception, as I have been placed for the next few weeks in a program at a WIN site! YAY! ***Cue fireworks***

Walking toward the WIN site on my first placement back for the fall, I am excited and a little nervous, trying to sort out all the jumbly thoughts in my head. Do I have enough sharpened pencils? Is the speaker charged? What if we run out of paddle-pop sticks? All those wriggly thoughts that squirm their way inside your head and have a habit of putting you outside yourself and out of the moment.

However, there is no mistake that whenever the delightful ASTEP Volunteer Teaching artists and myself open the doors to the community room on site and see the students smiling faces and hear the shouts of glee as they exclaim “YAY, ASTEP!”, all those thoughts about getting things “right” just float away and a warm feeling of gratefulness washes over me, bringing me back to the present.

The next couple of hours go by like the blink of an eye and are filled with learning, sharing, laughing and dancing together! We all do some moving and grooving on our feet, creating our own unique choreographed dances with zumba, and after, make our way to our tables where we engage in some creative craft and make some fun art pieces for ourselves or those we love!

As we glue, tape, draw and color, gradually bringing our art to life, before we know it, it’s time to go! We sit down for our final goodbye and high five one another, thanking each other and our wonderful teachings artists for the sparkle they brought to our day!

As I walk home with an extra skip in my step, my soul is overflowing with gratitude for the day I’ve just gotten to be a part of. As always, the privilege of working for ASTEP puts so many happy thoughts careening through my head like, that was so much fun! Those young people are so super talented and open! Doesn’t art make everything feel so much brighter!? When I get home, I can’t wait to look at my calendar and scan down to the date next week when I get to do it ALL OVER AGAIN! I am one very lucky koala indeed.

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.

Volunteer Spotlight: Alison Green


Alison Green

This week, our volunteer spotlight is on Alison Green!

Why do you volunteer with ASTEP?
I believe that the arts are transformational and offer learners opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. I have witnessed this impact in learners directly through improved confidence, listening skills, a rise in levels of empathy and compassion and a willingness to engage with diversity and explore narratives very different from their own. I believe that all these skills are essential in today’s world and for our sustained future as humans on earth.

How long have you been volunteering with ASTEP?
Since 2013 (?) I think…

What programs have you been a part of with ASTEP?
Due to my location I am mostly involved in the South African artsINSIDEOUT programme but have also witnessed some of the ASTEP summer programs in the US. I have also attended the brilliant Artist as Citizen conference at Juilliard.

What is your favorite memory from an ASTEP program?
Wow, so many. I guess the continued reminder that whenever I visit Nkosi’s Haven, or see the kids on an outing, they ask about artsINSIDEOUT and when it is happening again. I think this is a solid indicator that they perceive the programme as an important recurring event in their lives, much like Christmas, and look forward to it eagerly, with joy and with anticipation.

Thank you, Alison, for volunteering with ASTEP! We cannot do this work without you! 

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



Volunteer Spotlight: Gabrielle DiBenedetto

This week, our volunteer spotlight is on Gabrielle DiBenedetto!

Why do you volunteer with ASTEP?
The work at ASTEP combines three of my greatest passions – the arts, working with children, and helping others. I believe that performing opens so many doors for allowing children to express themselves and to learn the importance of collaboration, community, and creation.

How long have you been volunteering with ASTEP?
I just started volunteering with ASTEP in the summer of 2018!

What programs have you been a part of with ASTEP?
This past summer, I co-taught dance classes at the Refugee Youth Summer Academy (RYSA). I have also participated in an open mic night at the Incarnation Children’s Center.

What is your favorite memory from an ASTEP program?
My favorite memory from RYSA was graduation. Seeing how much the students came out of their shells, how much more confident they were, how their personalities shined onstage made me feel like their summer at RYSA had been truly transformative. Each one of the students truly transformed something in me. I was and am so proud of them!

Thank you, Gabrielle, for volunteering with ASTEP! We cannot do this work without you!

To learn more about ways YOU can get involved with ASTEP at the Refugee Youth Summer Academy, click here.

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