World Vision intern finds empowerment through volunteer service in NY

Story & photos by Austin Price, Intern

Two pallets of boxes stacked three-high sit in the essential supply aisle of World Vision's Greater New York field site.

Alexis Adams, 16, helps stock World Vision's warehouse in the Bronx.

Alexis Adams, 16, helps stock World Vision's warehouse in the Bronx.

"Everything in these boxes will go on these shelves," Alexis Adams says with authority, "and these bins on the shelves will separate each product." She grabs a box cutter and gets to work.

Alexis is a 16-year-old intern at World Vision in the Bronx. Most days, she works in the warehouse, stocking the display floor with donated materials to be distributed. She also helps in the office with data filing and inventory. Volunteer Coordinator Jeff Padilla calls her "one of the best interns we've had from Wildcat Academy."

For at least the past five years, students from the two-campus John V. Lindsay Wildcat Academy have pursued internship and volunteer opportunities at World Vision. Unlike the typical New York City school, Wildcat harbors the city's youth who have dropped out of the public school system for academic, disciplinary, economic, or other reasons.

Wildcat's alternative curriculum balances weeks of classes with weeks in internships — after every week in the classroom, a student spends the next week at a work placement, and so on. After receiving enough credits through both classes and internships, students "graduate" from the Bronx campus and continue the pattern at the Manhattan campus, where they must pass Regents exams and finish core academic courses to receive their diploma.

Alexis finds purpose in serving others: 'I actually want to come to work in the morning.'

Alexis finds purpose in serving others: 'I actually want to come to work in the morning.'

Alexis, who recently finished her first year at the Bronx campus, recalls when her dean suggested in February that she try to work as an intern at World Vision. "I love helping people," she says. "When I heard I'd work at an organization that helps people, I thought, 'That sounds pretty cool!'" She started her internship that same day.

"Growing up, I struggled a lot," she says. "I lived in a shelter for three years, and I didn't know there was an organization like this." Now, she is very familiar with World Vision from the inside, taking with her the acquired skills of punctuality, organization and, most importantly, the passion to make a difference in her community. "I actually want to come to work in the morning," she says.

World Vision has recognized the importance of bringing in youth to donate their time. In addition to a handful of other interns from Wildcat Academy, a steady stream of volunteers from local high schools visit the site throughout the typical school week.

On the last day of Alexis's internship, the special education class from P.S. 721 are working in the warehouse, folding and packaging donated shirts to be distributed to local partners.

When they finish their job, the P.S. 721 students enjoy lunch to celebrate the end of the school year. "You know, it's not about getting free food," 16-year-old George Jordan says between bites of his thin-crust pepperoni pizza. "It's about getting the chance to come here and help." His teacher nods reassuringly. She has just talked to the students about benevolence and generosity, without expecting reward.

The message is not lost on these students. Regardless of stipends, internship credits, service hours, or free pizza, they encounter the self-empowering choice to donate their time to a larger cause.

World Vision recognizes that one of the best ways to reach out to the youth is to bring them into the site and give them a chance to reach out themselves.

"We have a consistent amount of young people that participate with us," says Padilla, the volunteer coordinator. 'In different ways, we are able to empower them, to pour into them, and show them opportunities."