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,