Christina Lawrence '12
Washington and Lee University
Education and Youth Outreach
Harlem Children's Zone
Major: Art history
Minor: Poverty and human capability studies
- Kappa Kappa Gamma
- General Activities Board Publicity Co-Chair
- Habitat for Humanity
- Peer Tutor
- Volunteer at Head Start in Lexington, VA
- Internship at PR Department of Time Inc. (Summer 2009)
- Shepherd Alliance Internship at Harlem Children's Zone (Summer 2010)
- Semester abroad in Florence, Italy (Fall 2010)
Why did you apply for this particular internship? As an art history major with volunteer experience at Head Start, and work experience in media and advertising, the Shepherd Alliance internship at the Harlem Children's Zone site, TRUCE, was the "perfect storm" of my interests as it offered me the opportunity to teach underprivileged students Art and Media in a summer program.
How did your work apply to your studies at W&L? At TRUCE, I experienced firsthand the dynamics of poverty and the facets of education that I learned about in classes I've taken including Poverty 101, Poverty 102, and Economics of Education.
What was the most unexpected aspect of your Shepherd Alliance experience? During my Shepherd internship, I faced the unexpected everyday. What I appreciated most was the enthusiasm, creativity, and energy of the students despite the hardships they have encountered.
Favorite Class: Professor Simpson's American Art to 1945 helped me chose my major.
Favorite Campus Landmark:
Christina Lawrence is an art history major with a minor in poverty and human capability studies from Greenwich, CT. As a Shepherd Alliance intern, she worked at TRUCE, a summer program in art and media that is part of the Harlem Children's Zone, a community-based organization dedicated to reducing the problems of truancy, violence, foster care, pregnancy, poor school performance, and lack of self-esteem among high-risk New York City youth.
Fresh off the subway in Harlem, only twenty-eight miles away from the Connecticut home where I grew up, I found myself in a completely different world. Conscious of the fact that I was a distinct minority in this locale, I passed through the dilapidated façade of the building housing the TRUCE program, where the staff members and students welcomed me with open arms. TRUCE, an acronym for The Renaissance University for Community Education, is an arts and media program with the goal of providing academic and extracurricular resources to underprivileged teens. It is one of 22 sites operated by the Harlem Children's Zone, a highly acclaimed community service organization devoted to breaking the cycle of generational poverty by delivering educational and related support services to over 17,000 children in a 100-block area at the north end of Manhattan Island. Here, I began my eight-week Shepherd Alliance internship.
For the latter half of my Shepherd internship, I was the third supervisor in an art unit called Umoja, which means unity and the spirit of togetherness in Swahili. In addition to my race being an anomaly in the classroom of thirty-five students, I also learned that I was just one year older than many of the students that I would be teaching. On the first day of Umoja, my co-supervisor, Richey, insisted that I lead that day's lesson. The lesson plan introduced the unit themes of "Peace is Power," leadership and unity through a paper mâché mask-making activity that I had tested the week prior. I greeted the students, a majority of whom were returning and already more comfortable in the program and neighborhood than my rookie self. Hoping to create a platform to gain their respect while also garnering enough of their attention to make them want to come back the next day, I dove head first into the lesson plan. With my unfamiliar face and young age, I knew that one of the greatest challenges of successfully working with the students would be to find a way to bridge the gap between being a friend and a supervisor--reaching the balance between being entertaining and respected.
Fast-forward to my final day at TRUCE, many days, lessons plans, field trips and chaotic experiences later. As each student sat in a circle and voiced their particular appreciations or thank you's to "Miss Chrissy," I reflected on one of my goals as a Shepherd intern. My acquired nickname provided tangible evidence of my immersion in Umoja and the community at large. The nickname, Chrissy, coupled with the female title of "Miss" indicated that I had established myself as a fun yet admired mentor, a role stressed during our Shepherd Alliance preparatory orientation.
A more important lesson came when one student, a new member of TRUCE, spoke about her anxiety on the first day. She dubbed me "her blessing" when I offered her my own nervous assistance, but little did she know that it had been my first day as well. Her words left me with my own "little did I know" revelation, as I came face to face with the realization that had been sitting on my shoulders for the previous eight weeks: Our connections as people can transcend differences in background, race, age, education and socio-economic status. Although I understood and believed this before, I had never so fully lived it or experienced it. This profound lesson on the spirit of togetherness, or Umoja, is just one of the many that I have been exposed to as a Shepherd intern.