When I decided to volunteer for a year of service, I hoped that I would…
I make my way into the blinding sunlight in the South Bronx after a 50-minute commute through the dark subway tunnels of New York City. The unshaven, hard-working Puerto Rican man stands on the corner beginning his business for the day as he shouts “alcapurria, alcapurria” to the crowds of passing faces. I walk past the 99 cent pizza parlor and glance over at the daily crowd of elderly men spread out on the public benches, joking loudly in Spanish. To my left gathers a crowd of men and women outside of a small, Hispanic cafe smoking cigarettes and beginning their morning with a cup of cafe con leche. Children scatter the sidewalks, walking to school in their plaid uniforms as their mother pushes their baby brother in the stroller beside them, hurrying them past towering brick apartments, laundromats, and bustling bodegas. The booming speaker of Reggaeton music or Hip Hop from cars stopped at red lights, accompanies me as I cross the street towards my service site, Mercy Center.
This is my daily morning commute that has become so familiar through every smell, taste and sidewalk crack.
However, the community I get to be a part of on a daily basis in the South Bronx goes so much deeper than the physical. It’s the joyful giggles of my kindergarteners and second graders rushing in after school, their smiles large and backpacks bigger than their bodies. It’s the “Buenos dias, mamita” I am greeted with every morning by the Dominican and Puerto Rican mamas of the office. I find the heart of my community in the small bodies I cradle of the toddlers waiting for their moms to finish their ESL classes and the sticky hands of my kindergartners in mine as we walk to the park, passing the tall brick projects that are home to so many families on 149th Street.
To share about my time living in New York City, working with the sweetest children and parents in the South Bronx is something that cannot be captured in a few paragraphs, but that continues to humble and shape me in multiple ways. It pushes me to live simply, love always, laugh often, and live with an aggressive compassion to serve others.
Anna Palmer: New York City