Guest Post by BtB Intern Katie Shumaker
My love for reading is what initially drew me to volunteer with Behind the Book. Growing up biracial I struggled with my identity, in part, because I did not feel there were enough accurate representations of Chinese-Americans in literature and popular culture. However, in high school my love for reading and understanding of my culture intensified when I discovered Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. The story follows a Chinese woman struggling with her identity as a first generation American and her quest to uncover her family’s past. For me, discovering a story that spoke to my struggles merely deepened my curiosity and desire to learn more about all cultures through both fiction and non-fiction books.
Volunteering with Behind the Book gives me the opportunity to work with students of color like myself and to bring all different types of stories into their classrooms. I have volunteered as a research, writing, and art coach and seen some of our programs from start to finish. My favorite volunteer opportunity would be as a writing coach because I get to see multiple drafts of their writing and the improvements they’ve made throughout the process. It excites me to see how grateful these students are to have volunteers in the classroom because it allows them to work one-on-one with an adult who can focus on their work and teach them new ways to improve it.
Although many of the classroom visits are early in the morning, the students are the reason why I return time and time again. Before I started volunteering with Behind the Book I did not realize the lack of resources and individual attention given to students in the public school system here in New York City. Being able to bring students new books, having them meet the author and finally producing a class book of their own is inspiring to me because it shows these students that they too can be whomever they want to be so long as they stay committed to their education.
Importantly, volunteering with Behind the Book has been a humanizing experience. These students have shown me that they are no different or any less curious and passionate about learning new things than other kids their age. While many of the students we work with come from inner city communities, their desire to learn is boundless when we bring them new and innovative projects. These students are a joy to be around and interestingly enough they are able to teach me new things from the books they read and the programs we bring into their classrooms.
Aside from my volunteer work with Behind the Book, I also intern in their offices as one of the programming interns. Since my internship began in November, I have gained a new perspective on the education system in New York City. As an intern I see the amount of time and thought that our program coordinators go through to ensure that each classroom has a positive experience. I help our programming team assemble their programs while also learning about how nonprofits get involved with schools to set up these programs. My favorite part of being an intern is researching about the curriculum and helping to find different books and resources to better our programs. Being both an intern and a volunteer, I see the positive effects of our programs on the students we work with as they radiate with pride seeing their final product published.
For me, volunteering allows me to give back to the greater New York community and makes me feel like I am contributing to society in a positive yet selfless way. There are no downsides to volunteering with Behind the Book because I am sharing my knowledge of reading and writing in a way that positively influences these students. I encourage anyone looking to get involved to volunteer with Behind the Book because students who have a desire to learn should be given that support and guidance through volunteers. It is only a two-hour commitment per session, yet the feelings of appreciation and kindness expressed by these students are invaluable.
If you would like to volunteer and see the amazing work Behind the Book contact us here and get involved.
Katie Shumaker grew up in Los Angeles and always saw herself working as an entertainment lawyer when she grew older. After attending Bryn Mawr College outside of Philadelphia she realized how her love for education and working with underrepresented students greatly outweighed her desire to become a lawyer. After graduating from college Katie moved to New York and began volunteering at various organizations including Behind the Book. She currently interns for Behind the Book, and is excited to begin her masters in social work in the fall of 2016. Katie hopes to use her career as a social worker to work directly with students while focusing on the correlation between ethnicity and income inequality here in New York City.