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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

Every Reason Counts: Why Volunteering at ‘9 Million Reasons’ Matters

Volunteers for ‘9 Million Reasons’ work hard to distribute food to their local community at Evangel Church, nestled in the heart of Long Island City, Queens. With 9 million people living in New York City, there are 9 million reasons to give back.
A local volunteer helps with distributing food to the local residents. (Photo Credit: 9MR domain; used by permission)

At around seven thirty in the morning, you may see groggy teenagers stumble out periodically from Queensboro Plaza Station in Queens, New York. Pursue them a few blocks down, weaving through apartment complexes and bustling pedestrians, and you’ll start to see wisps of a line start to form. The further you walk down the street, the more people there are. As they stand with stoic faces, there isn’t much chatter. As the line slowly inches forward, the loudest sounds are the chirping of birds, punctuating the cool breeze of dawn. 

However, if you were to follow the teens just a little bit longer, through the back door, pushing past the plastic door strips, you would be met with the sudden noise of working teen volunteers. Orders being yelled across rooms, laughter from small jokes being played, and the clatter of items being shuffled around quickly fills the air. The big gym already seems too cramped to hold the lively chaos. However, people never stop moving. Everyone always has something to do, and you would never see an idle volunteer. A team leader quickly spots you and immediately sets you to work with the teenagers you had just followed. Indiscriminate to who you are, NYC Teens For 9 Million Reasons welcomes everyone with open arms, uniting for the common cause of feeding New York.

Starting from 8 a.m. and going until 1 p.m., the former elementary school gym transforms into a vibrant cafeteria, accommodating the constant people flowing in and out of the building. The cafeteria is always packed with guests, many of whom are parents with multiple children. The giant room soon fills up with the busy noise of clamoring parents and the din of children, with screaming and crying alternating with laughter and squeals of joy.

Dividers separate the student volunteers from the guests they serve, who are diligently working with the food. The back rooms are a hive of activity. Students are spread out across the rooms, each focused on their task. Some are stationed by a cardboard box, sorting through potatoes and separating the rotten from the fresh, their gloves becoming dirt-stained. Nearby, two students manage the cleaning station, one maneuvering a janitor cart while the other mops the floor, diligently keeping the area clean.

While managing an entire food storage unit might seem daunting for a group of teenagers, the volunteers handle it with impressive efficiency. Two volunteers are outside, methodically taking the names of clients, in a line that stretches down the block. Occasionally, you might hear conversations in various languages as an immigrant grandma tries to skip the line, only to be gently redirected by a patient teenager who speaks her language. They converse and negotiate, eventually convincing her to return to her place, keeping the line moving smoothly.

At the entrance, you will see a group of teenagers working alongside the official organizers of 9 Million Reasons, carefully placing fresh produce into open bags and wishing each person a good day. They operate like a well-oiled machine, striving to serve as many people as possible and maintain the line’s steady flow. This warm, collaborative environment is punctuated by calls for “More lettuce!” or “We need more tomatoes!” as everyone works together to keep the work flow going.

Duncan Park, a rising senior and co-captain of Teens for 9MR, helps out during the pantry’s local carnival. (Photo Credit: 9MR domain; used by permission)

While the organization is managed by a larger nonprofit, Evangel Church, NYC Teens for 9 Million Reasons was created in order to provide an opportunity for teens to volunteer across New York. Grace Rhee, a current junior at Stuyvesant High School, founded this branch, and remains an avid volunteer to this day. 

While leading as an event coordinator for ARISTA, or Stuyvesant’s National Honors Society, Rhee started to develop a passion as a local volunteer for 9 Million Reasons. Eventually, she started to expand her interest with others. “As I constantly volunteered throughout the school year, I started to develop relationships with my peers and the higher officials, as we started to grow. By the time it was summer, we actually had a surplus of volunteers, many of whom were not even in ARISTA.” 

NYC Teens for 9 Million Reasons’ primary focus is also the kids themselves. Many residents flock to the cafeteria doors, and with seats quickly filling up with parents, many bring their children along with them. “As the food pantry started to open up the cafeteria to give hot meals to this community, it soon became crowded with many families and children, who were often stuck with nothing to do.” Because of this, Rhee decided to take the initiative, proposing for the volunteers to be able to work with the children. 

Rhee continued, “As somebody who strongly believes in an arts education, I wanted to provide some other way for these children to spend their summer. Every Saturday, we would host a session with the children to read books and make art together. After pitching the idea to the officials, we were given a small space, and we started to host these sessions with the children.” 

This unique focus has attracted many empathetic teens looking to make a direct impact on their community. “Working with the children is my favorite part of volunteering at 9 Million Reasons”, said Evan Wong, a junior volunteer. “I loved working with the children, especially reading books and playing soccer with them.” 

Having worked myself with NYC Teens for 9 Million Reasons for a few weeks over the summer, I can say firsthand that it was an immensely rewarding experience. I spent my days working various jobs, whether it was peeling fruits, handing out produce to residents, or registering their names on a clipboard. Each day involved a different job. I felt a newfound sense of camaraderie among the other volunteers, as I started to frequent the pantry more often. Along with our work, we would joke around and share stories, making sure to have fun together. “I was initially a pretty shy person, but while I was volunteering at 9 Million Reasons, I started to build more friendships and gradually came out of my shell. I’ve met many great people at 9 Million Reasons, and built relationships that extended beyond just volunteering,” said Maegan Diep, a dedicated volunteer. 

At around lunchtime, teen volunteers congregate around a quiet room. There, tables and couches were set for the children. Usually, right before we greeted the children, I noticed a hushed silence, flecked with awkward small talk among the group.

A sort of nervousness filled the air, peppered with “What if?” questions that unsettled us. What if we couldn’t keep them entertained? What if the activities didn’t go as planned? What if something goes wrong, and one of them starts crying? 

But as the children entered the room, we would hear their laughter and playful chattering. Some would scream out the names of familiar volunteers, running and hugging their legs. The palpable joy and delight of the children eased our nerves, setting a much more relaxed atmosphere. Many of the kids did not speak English, as it was not their native language. However, their enthusiasm was contagious, strong enough to break the language barrier. We had fun teaching the kids basic phrases, helping them spell out basic letters, and encouraging them to step out of their comfort zones. Not only did their English skills improve, but we found ourselves growing as well, both as mentors and friends.

As a local volunteer with NYC Teens for 9 Million Reasons over the summer, the organization provided me valuable opportunities, not just with giving back to the community, but also by creating unforgettable memories and relationships. (Photo Credit: 9MR domain; used by permission)

I started to look forward to these weekly meetings with my newfound friends. I took pride in reading them stories that I had thoroughly enjoyed as a kid, and I was delighted in seeing them have a great time, too. Every week, I would always read the book Chika Chika Boom Boom to a small audience, and we would pass the time identifying all the different letters of the alphabet, rooting for our favorite ones. Or we would read Angelina Ballerina and pose in different pirouettes, playfully mimicking the graceful poses that Angelina the mouse struck. 

At 9 Million Reasons, teens can briefly escape the immense pressure of their high school life and form unique and touching experiences with the kids, instead. “It warms my heart when I see students from such competitive high schools, in environments that are notoriously known for their cutthroat competition and selfish students, come together with a shared goal of wanting to help others out,” Rhee said.

Teens for 9 Million Reasons is more than just a food pantry. It’s a place of community, growth, and learning. Here, volunteers find themselves building lasting friendships, stepping out of their comfort zones, and creating joyous memories with the children they serve. 

From reading beloved childhood stories to leading art sessions and playing games, the volunteers become not just helpers but mentors and friends. These moments of connection and joy become the highlight of the week, offering a meaningful respite from the pressures of high school.

At 9 Million Reasons, the spirit of community and compassion thrives, driven by the dedication of teens who want to make a difference. If you’re seeking a way to contribute to your community and form deep, impactful relationships, 9 Million Reasons offers a unique and fulfilling experience. Your involvement can make a significant difference in the lives of those we serve, and in your own as well. To learn more about 9 Million Reasons, click HERE

At 9 Million Reasons, the spirit of community and compassion thrives, driven by the dedication of teens who want to make a difference. If you’re seeking a way to contribute to your community and form deep, impactful relationships, 9 Million Reasons offers a unique and fulfilling experience.

About the Contributor
Andrew Na, Staff Reporter
Andrew Na is an Editorial Editor for 'The Science Survey.' Andrew views journalism as a megaphone where he can write about topics about which he is passionate, increasing awareness, and connecting with his reader. He values journalistic photography because he believes that photographs can convey emotions and invoke personal feelings that words simply cannot do alone. Andrew loves anything that has to do with writing prose and poetry, from creating a dystopian, futuristic world through writing science fiction, or through pouring his feelings into a visceral and retrospective personal essay or a poem. Andrew also loves listening to music, and you can almost always count on him to have an earbud on, listening to his favorite tunes.