When I decided to volunteer for a year of service, I hoped that I would…
1. Some of the best food is from a food truck
One of my community members, Ale, introduced us to an amazing food truck, King of Falafel and Shawarma. With pretty inexpensive prices, and occasional free samples, King of Falafel is the place to be. They even opened a brick and mortar restaurant! When my community member, Teresa, was purchasing a large order and planning on bringing it on the subway, the owner even drove her home. Who says New Yorkers are rude?
2. Keep to yourself on the subway
The subway is not a place to make small talk or make new friends. Eye contact is frowned upon. I do not think that New Yorkers are all rude, unfriendly people; however, when dealing with crowded subway cars and rush hour, no one is a happy camper. Keep your head in your AM New York (free local newspaper) crossword puzzle and you are all set.
3. New York is an amazing city but it’s not what you see on TV
Moving to New York I knew it wouldn’t be like a scene in Friends but I didn’t exactly know what to expect. I love our diverse neighborhood in Queens but it is not the glamorous NYC shown on Sex and the City and Girls. When I asked one of my clients, a 16 year old teen mom in foster care, if she wanted to stay in NYC she said no. She explained, “When people think of New York, they think of Manhattan, not this.” As a young woman living in a rough part of Queens I understood her point. I remember being 16 and dreaming of going to NYU and living in the big city. I realize that for most residents, that’s not the reality.
4. The city is very convenient
The 24 hour subway allows you to get anywhere whenever you want to. No need for Uber or a cab when the cheapest form of transportation (other than walking or riding a bike) is always available. There are also convenient stores on nearly every corner. From Duane Reade (New York’s chain drug store) to smaller stores, you can always grab the necessities. Many drug stores, Dunkin’ Donuts, and restaurants are open 24 hours or at least pretty late.
5. The spirit of Mercy is alive
I have been lucky enough to witness Mercy in so many different ways throughout my year in NYC. My coworkers at MercyFirst go above and beyond to help every young person they can. It’s far more than just a job for them.
The lovely Sisters of Mercy who work at the agency have been very kind to Kaitlin and I. From taking us out to lunch once a month, to making an effort to check in, I’ve always felt support and encouragement from them.
I also see Mercy daily from the strangers around me. It is common for someone in need of food or money to proclaim on the subway why they need help, and then walk the aisle collecting donations. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a person who did not receive anything. At least one person always opens their wallet to help a stranger.
Last but not least, I’ve seen mercy in my community members. We all come from very different places and have different experiences but we have been able to create friendships and a strong community. Being in a big city can be lonely at times, and I am thankful to have my convent budz. (For those of you who don’t know, we live in a convent!)
Nicole Panza: MercyFirst, New York City