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.


 

BLOG POST

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.


Announcement: Karina Sindicich named the 2019-2020 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow for ASTEP on STAGE!

ASTEP is thrilled to announce that Karina Sindicich has been selected as a recipient of the 2019-2020 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship for her work with ASTEP on STAGE!

ASTEP on STAGE! connects Volunteer Teaching Artists with schools and community organizations to bring the transformative power of the arts to children and young people throughout NYC. In collaboration with our partner organizations, ASTEP on STAGE! brings the arts to youth affected by the justice system, incarceration, gun violence, homelessness, immigration status, systemic poverty, and HIV/AIDS.

The Fellowship is a unique opportunity for individuals who closely model Jennifer’s values to use the arts as a vehicle to teach youth the social emotional skills they need to be the best versions of themselves. Karina is a professionally trained and working actress who can also pass the time by working as a clown (yep), children’s educator and physical theatre performer!

As a Program Facilitator for ASTEP on STAGE!, Karina will be serving at two locations: a transitional housing facility in Brooklyn for youth affected by homelessness, and at a community center in the South Bronx for youth whose families have been affected by the justice system. Thanks to her leadership, Karina ensures that our students are provided a safe, fun space where they can explore their voices and build their collaboration, problem solving, and communication skills using the performing and visual arts.

“What an INCREDIBLE, BEAUTIFUL, EXTRAORDINARY soul Jennifer must have been to shine SO BRIGHT and bestow that beautiful spark to others! I am beyond grateful and so inspired to be standing in the shadow of Jennifer’s legacy. It fills my heart and soul deeply to receive this fellowhip in her name. I love nothing more than sharing and teaching the arts to others and have dedicated my life to it. — Karina Sindicich, ASTEP Program Facilitator and 2019-2020 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

 

 

 

Firing up the engines of imagination

Jasmeene Francois, a 2019 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow, shares this blog post about her 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.

ASTEP’s Team of Volunteer Teaching Artists model collaboration during their training sessions!

Magical Play Dough

By: Jasmeene Francois, 2019 Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellow

How time flies!!! It is almost time for graduation and students will be showing their newly gained storytelling skills they have worked on for the past 5 weeks. This is my first experience with RYSA and I co-teach Storytelling for Lower School with the awesome Aaron Rossini. Even though I have been teaching for a few years, I was nervous about the first day of RYSA. The information we gained during the training laid a strong foundation before we started, but would I remember everything? What if I forgot the lesson plan?

However, my teaching partner, ASTEP and IRC colleagues were always at the helm with support and encouragement.

The students brought so much energy and creativity to storytelling class every time. I was able to witness many students in Lower School 1, 2 and 3 come out of their shells. There was an activity that I did during my full time theatre teaching position called Magical Play Dough and I was able to introduce and implement it for the class warm-ups. There are multiple aims of this activity. It serves as a movement activity while firing up the engines of imagination. With the Lower School classes we created rockets ships to outer space and beyond, mystical (and real life) creatures, and cars and boats to take us to our dream destinations. Usually an activity I did with the youngest of my students, I loved the enthusiasm of the older students as they molded this imaginary piece of play dough into something they might use everyday.

As the last week of RYSA draws to a close, I am full of joy and gratitude for my students, teaching partner, and ASTEP and IRC team. Thank you to the Jennifer Saltzstein Kaffenberger Fellowship for the incredible opportunity to work with the wonderful and
creative students at RYSA.

 

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: Grace Canahuati

This week, our volunteer spotlight is on Grace Canahuati!

Why do you volunteer with ASTEP?
To engage in a positive and inspiring way with children who are in need of hope and artistic escape. Each time I teach a class I feel like we collectively regenerate. Words cannot describe what these vibrant children do for the soul and it’s my priority to provide them with joy. Every lesson I approach as if it’s the most important class I’m going to give.

How long have you been volunteering with ASTEP?
I’ve been volunteering since May 2017.

What programs have you been a part of with ASTEP?
Lutheran Social Services partnership with ASTEP where unaccompanied minors are given the magic and fun of the arts every Friday taught in Spanish.

What is your favorite memory from an ASTEP program?
When everyone is laughing, smiling, and creating art there is magic in the room. We are all transported to a place where anything can happen. Art heals.

Thank you, Grace, for volunteering with ASTEP! The uplifting hope you bring to the classroom leaves lasting memories in all those you teach. We cannot do this work without you!

To learn more about ways YOU can get involved with ASTEP on STAGE! In NYC, click here.

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

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

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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 

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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!