by Janelle Mallen

I rarely find myself at a loss for words, especially when writing about my own personal experiences… until now.

To try and sum up my experience with SBU through a brief summary has proven to be entirely impossible. SBU helped me mature and grow in so many ways that it would be unfair to narrow it down to a mere few examples, (which writing this blog has forced me to do). I will attempt to do this summer and the kids of SBU some justice.

After starting my Senior year at Hunter College, I knew I would be graduating with a major in Sociology and applying for graduate school for social work was lingering around the corner. I also I knew I wanted to start gaining work experience that would help further my abilities in the social work field. As fate would have it, I came across a posting for South Bronx United and knew it was the perfect combination of athletics, education and social change.

Throughout my life, I have lived in seven different States spanning from coast to coast: I have attended school in the suburbs of Southern California, rural countryside of Maine, and most recently, the “big city” of Manhattan. All of these different environments have given me a sensible understanding of various socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, yet when I was chosen for a summer internship with South Bronx United, I suddenly questioned if I truly knew what I was getting myself into.

Initially, I was under the impression that my mentor duties would be that of a social worker; I figured I would shadow the real deal, while getting to know the kids and become involved in their home life through conversations with their parents. When I realized I was sadly mistaken, and would actually be in charge of creating a counselor inspired class with actual lesson plans to help students ‘discover themselves’, I was terrified.

I quickly learned the skills necessary to create my lesson plans, and found I could actually see myself pursuing some for of teaching one day. My confidence continued to increase as each lesson plan became better than the last. One of my favorite lessons was during career week: we gave the kids a career aptitude test that would help give them an idea of a career path they would possibly be interested in. Many of the students seemed sincerely engaged and wanted to know more. I was unprepared for the massive flow of additional information requested so I decided to let anyone interested in more information write their name down and what they would like to know. More than 1/3 of the class wrote their names down and I happily found myself taking extra steps to provide the resources many of the kids were clearly interested in finding out about.

Another great memory for me was the first day of class. I was getting to know the students by name and was determined to know every SBU student by the end of the first week. One young girl introduced herself as “Jennifer”, so I called her that for the rest of the day. ‘Jennifer’ sprained her ankle later that day in practice and much to my chagrin, I learned her name was actually Crystal; I had been pranked on the very first day.

During the following weeks, I began to build a relationship with Crystal. Though my ego was slightly bruised in the beginning, we began talking briefly, gradually increasing as time went on. By the end of the program Crystal was starting to recover and needed to push herself. Some people were unaware that for a year up until one month before joining the SBU team, I was receiving painful injections (amongst other treatments) for herniated discs in my back, and was uncertain if I would be able to coach, let alone play sports as I had just a couple years ago. Crystal and I began running the field at the beginning of practices, pushing each other to keep going until we had reached our set goal.

While Crystal was just one part of my SBU experience, it was an important one: Crystal helped to push me out of my comfort zone and not give up with her (even though admittedly I felt a bit foolish in the beginning). She also helped spark a passion within me that I had almost forgotten existed – a passion for competition and the sport- and a drive to constantly push yourself to the next level. While I began to understand the impact I could actually make on the kids in SBU, the kids were making an impact me.

When a person can partake in meaningful work, it makes working seem like something we wouldn’t generally call work. Every day I woke up at an abnormally early hour for my typical schedule, hopped on three subways to make my commute to the Bronx, and I loved every minute of it. The relationships I have built with both students and co-workers over the last two months have been truly incredible, and I will cherish them forever. I am beyond excited to continue my work with SBU for the remainder of my adventure in New York, however much longer it may be.