Artworks for Youth Club: A Separate Entity Unto Itself
Above: Emily Benson (’18) and Katie Lobel (’18) on the South Africa trip.
Artworks for Youth, a club currently led by Ellie Story (‘17) and Lucy Simon (‘17), is quickly rising in popularity among the student body. The club is best known for its role in the annual South Africa community service trip, in which students have an opportunity to travel to a foreign land and engage with lifestyles different from their own. This association, however, is slightly misleading, for the club has a variety of different functions and capacities well beyond community service.
Before delving into the multiple facets of the Artworks for Youth club, it is important to highlight the actual divergence between the club within Packer and the AWFY (Artworks for Youth) organization. The organization, established 16 years back by John Lombardo, a former Packer employee, provides free visual art instruction, academic support, and mentoring to students in the Joe Slovo township of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. In addition to supporting real teachers and tutors in South Africa, Mr. Lombardo also invites many organizations and schools, Packer included, to interact and create connections with some of these South African students.
The AWFY club at Packer is closely tied to the AWFY organization in South Africa. Last October the club held a “dance-a-thon” which raised $16,699 for the organization. Despite the shared name, however, the club is a separate from the South African-based institution. The distinction between the club and the organization is significant, for some have expressed skepticism about the club’s service intentions.
“A lot of people from outside the club see us as ‘white kids from a private school going to South Africa,’” said Katie Lobel (‘18), a current AWFY club member. “There has been a lot of talk about how we are benefiting more from the trip experience than [the South African students] are,” Alex Molestina (‘18), another club member, added.
Indeed, the issue of possible exploitation and perverted intent behind acts of community service is problematic, and the club is well aware of that. One of the club’s major missions revolves around trying to confront and grapple with this matter, focusing more on the “philosophy of philanthropy” than on philanthropy itself. It specifically understands that one of the challenges with developing an effective and sustainable community service or exchange program is making it beneficial to the group or community receiving the “service.”
So, although Packer’s Artworks for Youth club is often branded as solely community-service centered, one of its most interesting aspects resides in how it fosters discourse towards the act of aiding less-privileged communities.
“Many of our conversations are about understanding [our privilege], and trying to understand why we [go to South Africa], what we’re doing there,” said Alex.
A large amount of the club’s activities center around the idea of opening one’s eyes to the plight of different communities in relation to one’s own life. In this sense, it almost builds off the “eye-opening” experience of the trip and tries to mold that experience into a more enlightened understanding of “inclusiveness, empathy, and the understanding situations other than one’s own,” as Lucy nicely put it.
Beyond the annual South Africa trip, the club “opens its eyes” via other acts of community service as well. For example, the club assisted a food pantry on the Upper West Side this past December. In addition to the palpable community service effectuated there, the club also enlightened themselves to the quandaries of different communities. The experience and exposure to varying communities serves as an eye-opening and more meaningful exchange for the student of privilege.