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: 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 

 

 

Will Thomason’s blog: A NEW YEAR WITH ASTEP


Will Thomason, a Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing blog posts about his 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.


 

A NEW YEAR WITH ASTEP

It is currently 4:00am and I am giddy with excitement. It also helps that I have an open carton of Triple Chocolate ice cream beside me, but I promise, my excitement stems not from sugar, but from the prospect of the coming year. I am signed up to take a cycling class at noon tomorrow, but I think the instructor will understand my tiredness. After all, it is not solely my fault.

I worked on New Year’s Eve. It was intentional – I have seen enough sit-com episodes about the quest for the perfect NYC New Year’s Eve party for me to know that working a tepid Masquerade Ball was a perfect fit for the night. The one asterisk was that I had planned to participate in the “Polar Bear Plunge” the day after. For those who are not familiar with the concept, this tradition consists of a gathering of hundreds of people at various bodies of water – this one was planned for Coney Island beach – and a collective jump into the freezing cold water on New Year’s Day, as a jump-start into the new year. Though I had had a late night, I chose to get up early, pack my bag, and confirm plans with a fellow ASTEP volunteer, Angela, who had agreed to do it with me. But as I grabbed my keys to walk out the door, two thoughts crossed my mind. First, I hate the cold. I hate cold water. I hate cold water even in the summer. I don’t even like to *drink* cold water. Why would I subject myself to this pain *on purpose*? I was potentially willing to suffer through the pain, but my second realization is what prompted me to text Angela and request a back-up plan.

See, the point in the Polar Bear Plunge is to shock your body, and in turn, your mind, into a re-set for the coming year. As we all know with the Nintendo 64, the tried-and-true “turn it off, wait 10 seconds, and turn it on again” is the best way to fix a frozen (pun intended) system. But my system was not frozen. It was not broken, it did not need a re-start. I didn’t want to get *in* the water, because I was still on top of it, riding the wave from 2018! 2018 is when I started my relationship with ASTEP. What started with a one-time, low commitment to perform a 3-minute song on the piano, has turned into an integral part of my life. I have been able to meet an entire network of ASTEP employees, supporters, volunteers, and partners who have enriched my personal and professional journey, and I want to take that into the new year. In 2018, I was able to introduce the concept of wordplay to youth, who used their wit to outsmart me. I got to dust off my Spanish skills and hang out with some pretty cool, super cute 5 year-olds. I taught a new friend at a youth home how to strum the ukulele, and in turn learned some out-of-this-world jokes about astronauts. I convinced at least one child that I was Santa Claus (feel free to check out the picture. I’d say my years of acting training have paid off).  And at the very end of 2018, I flew to Miami and back in a day, and toured facilities of a community that ASTEP works with. I had some good, home-made food and good, home-made fun.

I used to make New Year’s Resolutions. In fact, I just found my list from 2014, which I had decorated and framed. I had planned to take 60 exercise classes a month, spend 10 hours a week practicing a foreign language, master front- and back-flips, and enroll in a year-long acting class. I admit, I had lofty goals, and barely accomplished any of them. But recently, instead of New Year’s Resolutions, I have made New Year’s Intentions. New Year’s Aspirations. New Year’s Goals. One is to make a bigger deal out of little successes, and to stop making a big deal out of little inconveniences (lookin’ at you, MTA). Another is to try to get rid of my own insecurity (it’s useless!) And ASTEP is there to support me through all of it. I am already looking at potential summer plans with ASTEP, and I will be attending 3 separate ASTEP events in the next 4 days. I am excited. I am giddy. And I’m ready.

Here’s to another exciting, ASTEP-filled year!

 

Volunteer Spotlight: Nate Rothermel

 

This week, our Volunteer Spotlight is on Nate Rothermel!

Why do you volunteer with ASTEP?
My impulse to volunteer with ASTEP has a lot to do with the fact that I identify with and champion its mission: to provide opportunity and experiences in the arts to communities and places which are impoverished of such. There is a genuine care and purpose at the core of each ASTEP program, and being a part of that and of service to that is an absolute honor.

How long have you been volunteering with ASTEP?
I have been volunteering with ASTEP for 5 years: I started volunteering with my ASTEP Chapter at Albright College my freshman year, and have continued volunteering to today!

What programs have you been a part of with ASTEP?
I have volunteered with and been the Artistic Director of ASTEP at Albright, taught in ASTEP’s Teach for India program, and am currently the President of ASTEP’s National Chapter Committee.

What is your favorite memory from an ASTEP program?
Each morning at Teach for India my students and I would walk to the classroom we utilized in their village, and along the walk we would share conversations about our days, about the differences and commonalities between India and the United States, and about our lives–hopes, dreams, stories. There’s something special about these walks and conversations, because they illuminate for me how vital it is to foster meaningfully shared experiences, and hopefully bring us one step closer to breaking the cycle of poverty existing in our world. 


Thank you, Nate, for volunteering with us at ASTEP! The initiative you take to do amazing work does not go unnoticed, and we cannot do our work without you!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to our newest staff member, Tiffany Ramos!

 

We’re excited to announce that Tiffany Ramos has joined the ASTEP staff as the Program Administrative Associate!

Get to know Tiffany in the interview below:

Where did you grow up?
Jackson Heights & Sunnyside, Queens, NYC.

Where did you work before joining the ASTEP team?
Before joining the ASTEP team I worked in an art store. I worked with teachers and prominent visual artists all around New York City.

Have you been onsite with any ASTEP programs? Which ones?
I have been onsite with a few ASTEP programs. I have taught visual art in AIA in Florida, Shanti Bhavan, and ASTEP on STAGE! at CHOICES Bronx, Lutheran Social Services, Incarnation Children’s Center, and Harlem Justice Corps.

Did you have a background in the arts or teaching, when you started?
When I first started volunteering with ASTEP I was a junior in college, I only had a background in the arts. As I was learning more about ASTEP’s programming in New York City, I sought out additional opportunities to expand my teaching skills, in order to volunteer with ASTEP on STAGE! when I was back in NYC.

What is the most challenging part of your work?
I would say the most challenging and thought provoking part of this work is going into a classroom and working as a team to figure out the specific learning and teaching structures that best fit the different learners and the teaching artists in the room.

What is the most rewarding part of your work?
The most rewarding part of my work is seeing the joy and confidence build in the students, as well as the teachers.

What do you look forward each day working with ASTEP?
I look forward to connecting communities that are unjustly underserved with artists who are passionate about their craft. I also look forward to working with all the positive energies that exist in the ASTEP office.

What song best encapsulates your working personality?
That is a really tough question. If I can, I’m going to say I don’t have one song, but I have an artist that I feel fits best and that’s Janelle Monae.

 

 

 

Marcus Crawford Guy’s blog: BACK TO SCHOOL


Marcus Crawford Guy, a 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing monthly blog posts about his experiences teaching the arts through ASTEP on STAGE! This program gives over 1,500 NYC youth 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 on STAGE! 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.


 

Blog Post #5:

BACK TO SCHOOL

 

I remember as a child (neurotic and high strung as I was even way back then) being so challenged by the routine that school brought as I returned at the end of each summer. I longed for days where I could play as I wished, where morning bled into noon and into night and be that guided by books, games, movies or time with family and friends, it was something I missed by the time the last week in August rolled around. I went to a school where we wore uniform: shirts, ties, belted pants and black shoes… ugh. Stifling.

But as I think about many of the kids I have met this summer at ASTEP’s partner sites, I am eager for them to get back into routine, to have new structure and to be given goals to work towards. The fundamental difference between my own free time and the free time of the students I work with being that I really didn’t have anything to worry about. Structure would be provided where needed but for the most part, I had more things to do than I had things to worry about.

For our student population, the equation is typically reversed. Time off often brings up the things that are absent in their lives. I had to actively remind myself of this in all of our workshops these past couple of months – intellectually I understood their experience (with a 26 year old brain) but to be living that in the mind and body of a 7 or 8 year old is completely incomprehensible. It made me particularly aware of moments when a teaching artist couldn’t understand why the students needed so much scaffolding around a particular concept. For the most part, their days are spent off without structure – and this likely only brings their life circumstances into focus more acutely. Their creative expressions within transitional housing complexes for example, aren’t always accepted as productive and so our task is to come in and not only be the bearers of fun, but also to present the structure in which that fun will be had.

So, with school back in session, I’m excited to return to many of these sites this fall and see familiar faces with brand new energy. Granted, its usually colored with the exhaustion of learning at the end of a school day but this allows our function to be different, providing fun, freedom of expression and creativity at the end of a rigorous day, which, of course, then presents a whole other set of challenges!

 

 

ASTEP Featured on Common Good!

 

We are excited to announce that ASTEP is featured on Common Good, a new website from Newman’s Own Foundation!

This site is dedicated to sharing the powerful pursuits of nonprofits all over the world, and the everyday good that is often overlooked.

Check out our story here.

 

 

Rachel Kara Perez’s blog: Each day


Rachel Kara Perez, a 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing monthly blog posts about her experiences teaching the arts through ASTEP on STAGE! This program gives over 1,500 NYC youth 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 on STAGE! 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.


 

Blog Post #5:

September 5, 2018

Each day

My padrino tells me, obsessing over the past is what breeds depression. Fixating on the future is what breeds anxiety. That we can only truly ever appreciate and have a life well-lived if we focus our energy on the present, allowing ourselves to be fully here and now.

In this work, and especially in this mighty city, it is easy to find excuses not to follow this thoughtful and somewhat sage advice. The trains are late, we are waiting for our next check, one of the children may be gone next week, new sets of expectations, someone is late, we didn’t get that gig…the list is long.

Working with refugee youth, and specifically unaccompanied minors during my time with ASTEP has granted me a different relationship with impermanence. It came almost all at once, as I spoke to a fellow teacher from the Refugee Youth Summer Academy about my work at our site with Lutheran Social Services. I expressed my struggle with endings, how saying goodbye (or harder still, not being afforded an opportunity to say goodbye) never got easier with this work, how I had cried and not known how to channel that sorrow after a child leaves, especially when they’ve been at LSS for a long time and then one day are just not there anymore.

The advice she gave me was a total game changer. She suggested at the end of each class I take a moment to let the children know how much they mean to me. That way, even if I don’t have the opportunity to say an individual goodbye to each of them before they leave, I can rest assured that they know how I feel about them, that I believe in them, and that I care. Little did I realize how effective this would be and also how soon I would need to say a goodbye of my own.

I am moving on from ASTEP to further my work in arts activism, working full time for an arts and social justice organization. It’s a wonderful opportunity, and yet I will miss ASTEP dearly. Of course, I will find ways to collaborate and stay connected, always.

My last day with the children at LSS  I actually didn’t have a Volunteer Teaching Artist and was able to take the lead as opposed to offering on site support. It felt fortuitous. I threw them a little party, we had snacks, listened to music, and drew together. I took the advice of my colleague, and now friend, and explained that this was my small way of expressing my gratitude. That I wanted all of them to know that they are important. That whether we have been together one day, or two weeks, or seven months, that each day is special to me, and that I will always think of them. I told them the time I have spent with them has changed my life. I thanked them for their time and for their presence. And I thank everyone at ASTEP, for your support and encouragement, for the Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship, for the honor of carrying on this work for those who no longer can. And though I must say goodbye, please accept this modest writing as an expression of my gratitude, and know that each day was special to me.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Ring in the holiday season with us! Mark your calendars for the 10th Annual New York City Christmas: A Concert to Benefit ASTEP.

Conceived, produced and music directed by Drama Desk-nominated orchestrator Lynne Shankel (Cry-Baby, Altar Boyz, Allegiance), the evening will feature Broadway’s most sought-after talent, putting their spin on your holiday favorites. Past performers include Sierra Boggess, Raul Esparza, Derek Klena, Lindsay Mendez, Andy Karl, Orfeh, and more!

Monday, December 10
7:00PM
Joe’s Pub at the Public Theatre

Tickets: $75 | $100 | $125
Sponsorships available at various levels

 

ALL proceeds from ticket and album sales will support ASTEP’s mission of connecting performing and visual artists with underserved youth in the U.S. and around the world. Together, we give kids access to the transforming power of the arts!

Email Katherine Nolan Brown at katherine@asteponline.org to be notified when tickets are available for purchase, or for information about sponsorships.

 

 

Pablo Falbru’s blog: We Started From The Bottom Now We’re Here


Pablo Falbru, a 2018 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, will be sharing monthly blog posts about his experiences teaching the arts through ASTEP at Refugee Youth Summer Academy. A team of 13 ASTEP Volunteer Artists lead the creative arts classes at the 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.


 

Blog Post #3

August 22, 2018

Week 6 | RYSA: We Started From The Bottom Now We’re Here

We’re in the home stretch of the Refugee Youth Summer Academy (RYSA). It has been quite an experience in all the good ways. As we gear up for graduation performances, the reality that my time with these amazing students is coming to an end starts to sink in. Seeing each class grow in confidence not only in the fundamentals of music, but in self-expression and vocabulary, has been an honor and a privilege.

The joy and excitement they have when they come into class reminds me of the power each of us has to impact someone’s life. My co-teacher Nick and I reflect on our classes at the end of each day and we are always blown away by how fast our students grasp the lessons. It inspires us to push ourselves in our own work outside of teaching. For me, it’s also a reminder that we have the capacity to grow and do more. And that we should set mindful intentions so that we can be the best version of ourselves.

One of the most heartwarming things that happened during the program was when a new
student was added to the class. There was always a “veteran” student that supported the new
kid. Helping them get their bearings, teaching them what they knew and just being there to
support them. It’s adorable to watch and witness unbiased kindness really does something to
ya. I have no doubt that it’s going to be an emotional final week. I’m proud to have been a part
of their lives and feel blessed to experience their love and gratitude. I learned a lot from them
and will keep the joy, wonder and kindness they emanate in my heart.

We could all learn something from the innocence of a child. Some of these kids have had
experiences that I couldn’t imagine having to go through. Yet, they are full of love, excitement
and understanding. If more adults had this mindset, the world would be a better place. So thank
you, students of RYSA. You have made me a better man. And thank you to the administrators
of the Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship for the opportunity to grow, give back and
honor Jennifer’s legacy.

Be loved, inspired and live your best life,

Pablo Falbru

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