PS 199 showcases youths’ community service efforts

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Rogers designed the mural that now adorns a...

By James DeWeese

Far Rockaway native Shanquell Rogers spends his spare moments drawing, so when the 22-year-old AmeriCorps volunteer got a chance to pour his inspiration out onto a 25-foot canvas, he leaped at the opportunity.

Rogers designed the mural that now adorns a once-peeling wall in the play area of Sunnyside’s PS 199 as part of Saturday’s National Youth Service Day, a one-day, countrywide event that brings together more than a million children to perform community service.

“Any time they ask me to do a mural, I jump on it,” said Rogers, one of 50 17- to 24-year-olds who have committed themselves to a year of community service in New York as members of City Year, an AmeriCorps program with volunteers in 15 cities across the country.

Rogers based his vision for the mural on the school’s motto: “PS 199, where education and values go hand in hand.” The image features two large hands cupped around a school under a rainbow.

The Sunnyside National Youth Service Day activities, organized by City Year, Manhattan-based non-profit Children for Children and Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside), brought more than 200 youth together for beautification projects at PS 199 and nearby IS 125. Projects included painting murals, designing sidewalk games, planting gardens, crafting surgery dolls for sick children, making cards for seniors and assembling a community quilt for local rescue organizations.

“It’s fun because we can dig dirt,” said Gabriel, a PS 199 fourth-grader who was working with 22-year-old City Year volunteer Taylor Rainier and other kids to create a garden and mulch path next to the school.

“It’s really going to be great for the kids to see their projects,” said PS 199 Principal Lillian Druck, who along with her staff helped select the beautification projects. “There’s a sense of ownership.”

Druck said about three classes of about 50 children from her school alone attended the event to help clean up the school. “They’re excited to be at school on Saturday,” Druck said with a smile. Other schoolchildren accompanied their parents from as far away as Roosevelt Island, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Rogers, who is in his first year of what can be a two-year stint in City Year, said he would like people to see this as a starting point. “Hopefully, this might put something in people’s minds,” he said, pointing at the mural.

The Sunnyside volunteer service project is the first City Year has done in Queens, but for more than eight months the 50 corps members have worked as tutors and mentors in areas such as the Bronx and Harlem.

Corpsmembers, as the volunteers are called, receive a modest weekly stipend to cover living expenses and receive a $4,725 education award for each year of service. The program draws a diverse group of volunteers from all over the country.

Since September, New York corpsmembers have done more than 10 community service projects similar to those of National Youth Service Day, said 18-year-old Connecticut native Adwoa Arhin. “We have a lot more lined up for the rest of the year,” the first-year corpsmember added, “so we’re keeping busy.”

“I would love to see City Year in Far Rockaway,” Rogers said. “There are other schools in Queens that need it.”

Rogers’ wish will move a step closer to reality next year if Gioia gets his way.

Gioia has been working with City Year to bring a team of corpsmembers to Long Island City next year.

Ken Grouf, City Year New York’s co-executive director, said the organization is currently seeking corporate sponsorship for a team to work in Queens.

City Year corpsmembers are financed by a public/private partnership between the federally funded Corporation for National Service and corporate donors, including Timberland, Cisco Systems, Bain and Company and others.

Next year Grouf expects City Year’s New York operations to double in size. “We’re getting back to a time when people are investing in their community and not just donating money but time,” Grouf said.

City Year’s more permanent arrival in Queens would please not only Rogers, Gioia and Grouf. Woodside on the Move Executive Director Thomas Ryan said he would love to have corpsmembers stationed in his community helping direct local youth.

“It’s a great thing,” Ryan said. “You know National Youth Service Day is once a year, but can you imagine if you could mobilize all these kids (every weekend) ... you could get a hell of a lot done.”

Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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