Student Volunteers Give Back by Becoming Change Warriors

CUNY SPS students and Change Warriors Gichael Brown (far left) and JaQueen Barksdale (far right)

If you’ve ever wanted to give back to your community but don’t know where to volunteer, consider becoming a CUNY SPS Change Warrior. The students who did found that the experience was nothing short of transformative.

CUNY SPS Change Warriors, the School’s volunteer program, allows students to partner with charities and advocacy groups across New York City to create positive change within a community.

To become a Change Warrior, students should volunteer for at least 25 hours, though there is no maximum number required. They must also attend the Change Warriors orientation before volunteering, attend program meetups, and write a reflection after volunteering. Undergrads must also maintain a 2.5 GPA and grad students should maintain a 3.0.

Change Warriors also provides a list of volunteer sites for students who aren’t sure where to begin or don’t have a specific program in mind. Some volunteer events take place during CUNY SPS campus events, such as the Fall 2023 semester’s Winter Wonderland party. To sign up for Change Warriors, contact Reshma Jaigobin, CUNY SPS Student Development and Leadership Coordinator at [email protected].

Students who completed their hours at various locations came away from the experience with overwhelmingly positive feelings about the program and the charities they volunteered for.

Fostering Community by Feeding Those in Need

The Campaign Against Hunger’s Thanksgiving food distribution event

Gichael Brown, who spent years working as a teacher before starting her BA in Psychology at CUNY SPS, found that joining Change Warriors fulfilled her desire for connection with those in need, much like teaching did previously.

“I’ve always been the type of person who loves to help, like that’s just my natural nature,” Brown explained. “I’m drawn to opportunities that are like that whenever they present themselves. And so with that kind of nurturing character or trait that I have, it led me to the classroom.”

Brown volunteered at a range of different events and organizations that she found through a list provided by Change Warriors, including food distribution events for holidays in Queens, food pantries in Brooklyn, and other events, such as toy drives, she said.

“I actually watched people come out to this big fair,” Brown said, “And one, I think it was sometime like mid last year, and literally tears were coming down their face and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, thank you so much for giving your time just to remember us in this little small community.’”

Brown’s time Brown quickly filled up the 46 hours needed, and then some, to achieve the title of Change Warrior, but plans to continue her work with any free times she has, she said. “I’m longing to be back out there giving my time again this semester,” she added.

A Life-changing Experience

JaQueen Barksdale, who is pursuing her Bachelor’s in developmental and child psychology at CUNY SPS, volunteered at a food pantry in a Bronx church, where she quickly built strong bonds with staff running the program.

“I specifically wanted to pick a church because I am a member of a congregation, but I don’t do outreach at the church that I attend,” Barksdale explained. “So a part of me felt like because I’m this Christian woman and don’t do volunteer services at a church that I attend, let me still have my service within that room of the Lord and choose a church.”

During a shift serving food, Barksdale noticed that some of her fellow volunteers were pocketing meat that was intended for those in need. One volunteer offered some to Barksdale, and she didn’t refuse it, which later prompted feelings of guilt. But when she confessed to the pastor’s wife, she was immediately forgiven.

“From that point, me and her, we just became really close,” she said. “She gave me a hug and she was just like, ‘You know, because of your sacrifice to the Lord and the fact that he’s seen your honest speech, I forgive you and I’ll hold nothing against you. When you come here, you take anything you want.’ And it was really touching for me, like I started crying and stuff.”

Barksdale was also grateful for the experience because it was her first time doing community service as a volunteer and not because of a criminal offense, she explained. In the past, she used to shoplift, but stopped years ago. Her time at the church reminded her of how far she’s come, and she plans to continue volunteering even outside of the CUNY SPS program, she added.

“It was really life-changing and I wasn’t expecting what happened to happen,” she said.

Becoming a Change Warrior

The Campaign Against Hunger’s Thanksgiving event. Photo: Gichael Brown

In addition to volunteering, both Barksdale and Brown appreciated the Change Warriors meetings on the CUNY SPS campus. “We’re coming together just to celebrate, because it’s an online school,” Brown explained. “And so we don’t get to really meet up and see each other all the time.”

Both Barksdale’s and Brown’s advice for students considering joining Change Warriors was simple: “Do it.”

“Do Change Warriors, but don’t do it just to have the bare minimum, just to say you did it,” Barksdale said. “If you’re gonna do it, give it your all, because it’s not really the program that you’re doing it for. You’ll be surprised how many people you could touch by being present at the location you pick.”

Brown agreed, saying, “At first it’s going to be hard because the human side of you is like, you may not see where it’s helpful because you’re not getting a check in your pocket. And so you’re like, why not use all this time towards this [thing] that’s not really benefiting me, where I can actually see it.”

“You never know who’s standing in that line,” Brown continued. “You never know who’s going to be at that desk. You never know who you may come across that’s going to help you in the long run….And I don’t think it’s ever time wasted. I feel like it’s an investment in your future.”

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Tiffany Alston

    This is truly amazing and I love helping people also would love to be apart of something like this very proud of Jaqueen Barksdale

    1. Anonymous

      Thank you so much sis xoxox