Opinion: Get involved with community service around New York City

Don’t continue romanticizing what the city offers without contributing to making it a better place to live.

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Kevin Wu

Snow and garbage line Broadway on a winter day. (Kevin Wu for WSN)

Molly Koch, Contributing Writer

It’s the start of the fall semester. You’ve recently said goodbye to your friends, family and maybe even pets. Now you’re in New York City on your own — just like that Taylor Swift song, “Never Grow Up.” So you may be asking yourself, now what? 

You’re drawn to all the aesthetic activities that New York City has to offer, from indulging in the view from the High Line to enjoying a giant cupcake from Magnolia Bakery. It’s the setting of so many romantic comedies, and so many success stories. It’s easy to romanticize living here, but that can mask the complexity of the issues that native New Yorkers face. 

In the neighborhoods you now live in, social issues are drastically becoming more intense. The Coalition for the Homeless reports that a record number of unhoused individuals have died in 2021. Encore, a community service organization providing care to New York City’s older population, found that around 425,000 of the 1.73 million elderly people in the city are food-insecure, and about 700,000 live alone.

Additionally, the city generates more than 14 million tons of waste every year. With all the trash on the streets after move-in day, NYU students definitely contribute. These statistics are no longer just on the news — they surround our dorms and apartments.

Ignorance is not bliss. There’s a fine line between romanticizing the city and being blind to its weak spots. We must be open to seeing the perspective of those that are unhoused, senior citizens and even fellow students who are originally from the city or who come from a lower socioeconomic background.

NYU offers easy ways to get involved with community service in New York City. I, for one, took part in the university’s pre-Welcome Week program, Project Outreach. Each day, we participated in a service project aimed at a different social issue: food deserts, homelessness, mental health and climate change, to name a few.

Organizations beyond Project Outreach are also simple to get involved in. Here are some groups that are always looking for more volunteers.

You may argue that there is only so much you can do as a student. That’s the wrong mindset to be in. Simply educating yourself on the surrounding community you live in is a start. Some of these social issues permeate NYU’s community, too. A Steinhardt report found that 41% of students identify as food-insecure. With a campus enrollment of more than 50,000, that’s around 20,500 students.

This isn’t to say you can’t romanticize New York City at all. Be grateful you get to go to college in a vibrant city like this one. But be mindful of the difference between enjoying what it has to offer and forgetting your privilege.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Molly Koch at [email protected]