When I was a kid, my mother made me volunteer at a local shelter every Christmas morning. I hated it. You know why? Because I was a spoiled little shit with zero perspective and I needed to learn that even though we were poor, plenty of people in the world had it worse. So we’d volunteer, because volunteering is excellent (shoutout to Mom).
Bushwick’s a beautiful place and we can all help keep it that way by contributing something positive to the community. Here’s a small sample size (in no particular order) of the many excellent organizations you can get involved with. Feel free to comment and add more!
#1 Still Waters in a Storm: Help a Bushwick kid with her homework
286 Stanhope St., Ground Floor, Bushwick
Homework sucks. It’s a universal truth. But Still Waters in a Storm has somehow found a way to make it un-suck. Pairing volunteers with young students, they provide free homework help to lower-income families in Bushwick. From reading and writing, to music and yoga, Still Waters gives kids in the neighborhood a chance to thrive and learn in a nurturing environment. Watch this video below and after you cry a bit, make sure to check out their website to see what you can do to help. If you want to contact them directly, e-mail Stephen Haff, the program’s founder, at stephenhaff[AT]stillwatersinastorm.org.
#2 Bushwick Housing Independence Project: Advocate for Low-Income and Immigrant Tenants in Bushwick
144 Bleecker St, Bushwick
The Bushwick Housing Independence Project (BHIP) is a non-profit that’s spent over a decade advocating for low-income tenants in Bushwick, and has recently kicked off a fundraising campaign to help continue their efforts to fight the shady slumlords of New York City. They’re asking for $10 donations and a shoutout to ten of your friends. If you want to volunteer (lawyers, Spanish speakers, and anyone else!), shoot an e-mail to bhipbrooklyn[AT]gmail.com.
#3 Bushwick City Farm: Work at an urban farm; support food justice
Lewis and Stockton St., Bushwick
Two words. One Name. Ron Finley. A couple years ago I saw this news clip about a man who started a guerilla gardening movement in South Central LA. His goals were best expressed in his Ted Talk: “What I’m talking about is putting people to work, and getting kids off the street, and letting them know the joy, the pride and the honor in growing your own food, opening farmer’s markets.” Bushwick City Farm’s goals are on the same wavelength, providing the “opportunity to experience active models of responsible food productions” by educating the community on sustainable methods for sharing and growing food in the neighborhood. You can donate money, materials, and most importantly your time by contacting them – jason.bcf[AT]gmail.com.
#4 Ecostatio:NY: Pursue social and environmental justice
400 Irving Ave, Bushwick
Similar to Bushwick City Farm, Ecostation:NY strives to promote a healthier Bushwick community through their own three-tier process of agricultural education:
Bushwick Campus Farm provides a living classroom for students to experience independent and cooperative gardening firsthand.
Bushwick Farmers Market connects community members with fresh produce from local farms.
Farm-in-the-Sky is a developing program that explores the benefits of rooftop agricultural in a city lacking in farm space.
In a matter of five short years, Ecostation:NY has been able to combine the pursuit of social and environmental justice through dynamic programs that combine community participation and agricultural know-how. Contact them for more information at [email protected].
#5 Bushwick Public Libraries: Be a book buddy
340 Bushwick Ave. at Seigel St., 790 Bushwick Ave. at DeKalb Ave., 360 Irving Ave. at Woodbine St.
I spent most of my childhood at my local library, looking up books on astrology (no, not astronomy) and searching for copies of an obscure science fiction book series called Mind Warp. And dammit if they didn’t have everything I ever needed. Libraries are magical places and we’ve got plenty reasons to support them. The branch on Bushwick Ave and Siegel St has been open to the public for over 100 years, providing endless knowledge to generations of young kids and adults. All three Bushwick branches offer a number of different volunteer opportunities, including work as a book buddy, a citizenship exam coach, a shelf organizer, and a resume coach. Check their website for a full list of ways you can get involved. Because…THE MORE YOU KNOW.
#6 Arts in Bushwick: Connecting artists and local community
Everywhere in Bushwick
I can’t draw a stick figure to save my life, but there are plenty of people in Bushwick who can do this and more. Even if you’re not an artist (or even if you don’t understand it), there is no doubt that art has an impact on all of us. As such, Arts in Bushwick makes connecting with art accessible in a variety of ways. Bushwick Open Studios started in 2006 and since then, its founders have fostered an inclusive artistic community connecting local artists with their community through exhibitions, events, and mixers. You can volunteer to help organize and execute some of these, or submit your work through their aesthetically pleasing (duh) website.
#7 Make the Road New York: Empower undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ New Yorkers of color & low-income residents
301 Grove Street, Bushwick
You’d be hard pressed to find an organization that does more for the Bushwick community (and surrounding areas) than Make the Road New York, an organization that moves to empower undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ New Yorkers of color, low-income residents, and local youth. Per their website, the Bushwick community has an “average per capita income is $11,871—less than half the city average.” Without financial backing, the community has been severely underrepresented and has had little access to legal aid that helps deal with the side effects of a newly gentrified area. Make the Road offers a slue of worthwhile internships, including those dealing with community organization and development, legal aid, and adult literacy.
#8 Mayday Community Space: Your activism hub
214 Starr Street, Bushwick
Although a relatively new organization in Bushwick, Mayday Community Space has made its mark, striving to work “in solidarity with local organizers and residents to become a neighborhood resource for community sustainability and empowerment.” And they have done just that. They’ve recently partnered with Make The Road New York (providing classroom space) and Ecostation (allowing access to rooftop space for “Farm in the Sky”) to help strengthen ties within the community. Their building is currently under renovation, but they’re still in need of volunteers and donations to keep things moving at their already exceptional pace.
#9 The Bushwick Starr: Bushwick’s famous theater embedding in community
207 Starr Street, Bushwick
I’ll defer to my good friend, John Steinbeck here: “The theater is the only institution in the world which has been dying for four thousand years and has never succumbed. It requires tough and devoted people to keep it alive.” The good people at The Bushwick Starr have kept theatre alive in the neighborhood since 2007, hosting reading series and performances that speak to and engage the community’s diverse population. I mean, just look at how much fun they’re having in the photo above! You can help out by contacting Maria at maria[AT]thebushwickstarr.org.
#10 Bushwick Community Board 4: Have your voice heard
420 Bushwick Avenue, Suite 370. Bushwick; monthly meetings at Hope Gardens Multi-Service Center, 195 Linden Street, Bushwick
This isn’t so much of a nonprofit as much as an invitation to attend one of the monthly Bushwick Community Board meetings, hosted every third Wednesday of the month at Hope Gardens Multi-Service Center, 195 Linden Street. Speak up and tell the board about the issues that need to be addressed in the neighborhood. If you hate that pothole on Knickerbocker Ave, come in and shout your lungs out! If that swing set in the park is broken, let the board know! A voice is a voice and we all deserve to be heard.