Last week University Settlement held its annual gala, City Stories: The Power of US. City Stories: The Power of US is a celebration of human connection and the community strength that is possible when neighbors are engaged in their powerful individuality. Honoring difference, insisting on complexity, and forging relationships are the pillars of this approach, one University Settlement has cultivated with their neighbors for the last 135 years.
If you weren’t able to attend, you can watch an inspiring conversation with Charles B. Stover Award Honoree Cathy Park Hong, a spoken word and dance performance by Drew Drake and Angelica Mondol Viaña, and a behind-the-scenes look at our programs in honor of our frontline staff.
This year’s gala may be over, but our work is far from done. We are going to keep pushing forward to make NYC a more equitable place for ALL.
Here’s a piece of non-fiction from Class E4 student Silvia Cortes about some changes she decided to make in her life. When you’re finished, take the quiz to test your understanding!
by Silvia Cortes, Class E4
I realized that every big change in my life started with “Why not? Let’s do this!” This is how my journey here in the USA began with a simple “I am going to leave my job as office assistant and put my catering business on pause. Let’s see, why not? We all need a vacation.”
So there I was making government appointments to start the paperwork for my passport and visa, checking on what I should put in my suitcase for the couple of weeks I was thinking of being here.
I was nervous because it was the first time I traveled outside of my country and if it was a good decision to quit my job and pause my business just for vacation. But then again, why not?
So there we were, my mom, my brother, one uncle and two cousins and we made it to the airport and the adventure began. For them it was their second time here, but for me it was all new.
On the first day of our adventure, an accident happened to me. In the subway station, a tired man dropped his heavy suitcase and instrument case from the top of the stairs and it all came falling down towards us. My mom was in front, so I jumped in front of her to block it. The suitcase and bag sent me falling down the stairs, I hit the platform, and my leg, ankle, arm, and head were injured. That was my welcome to NYC. After a paramedic checked up on me and asked many questions about my health, we continued with our adventure. So with the help of painkillers we went to see the most famous tourist places around NYC. I didn’t want to miss anything.
We went to Rockefeller Center—the views were amazing, even for being a cloudy day. For the night my cousin bought us tickets to the Rockettes’ Christmas show. Even though I am not fan of Christmas I had to admit it was a totally cool show.
We went to visit the Statue of Liberty. Well, that was our plan but we got fooled by some people to avoid waiting so much time in line. They took us to another ferry to take a boat around the Statue but it was far away. It was disappointing because the one who was most excited was my mom. She really wanted to be there on Ellis Island, but in the end to see her face on the boat, despite the distance was worth it. She enjoyed it so much, and I cannot imagine her face if we had gotten closer.
After discovering the most popular places, I made the decision to stay in New York. Again I said to myself, “Why not?” A few weeks later I got my first job as cashier and server (among other things) at a restaurant nearby my
place of residence. Everything went good, I was good with customers, and I was everything that the manager was looking for in a person.
Nobody was aware of the pandemic that was going to impact everyone lives so much, so I thanked God that my brother decided to stay in New York too. Unfortunately my brother and my aunt lost their jobs, and I was the only one working. I could not leave my family in that situation, so I decided to stay indefinitely.
The time passed and I did not feel comfortable at all, many obligations came and people started doing nothing, waiting for me to do their stuff. I was getting tired of it, but at the same time I was thinking how convenient my work was. It only took 25 minutes walking from home, and even when I did not have time to eat, they gave me food there. During the pandemic the manager and the owner kept me as a worker so I had the opportunity to support my family by paying rent. It was so convenient but not enough. There were still things that were annoying me, and again I decided to make a change, and in the end I had nothing to lose besides my financial support—but the universe provides. Besides I wanted to take days off, so why not?
One Sunday I told the owner, “Next week is going to be the last for me working here. You have the opportunity to hire someone else and for me to train them.”
That week my best friend told me that she had tickets to come and visit. The timing could not have been better: I was free and with some savings we could go and discover some other places in the city together.
And so it was: we went to so many places, we had the opportunity to talk face to face again, to hear about our own lives in real life and not just from the chatting over the phone. I missed her so much and I didn’t want the time to pass that fast but thankfully the timing was perfect and the decision of making a change was a good one.
Meaning: To give someone the benefit of the doubt is to choose to not be disappointed or upset when they may have made a mistake because you have some trust in them.
My daughter is usually so good with studying that I gave her the benefit of the doubt when I saw her watching TV all night, and I knew she had a math test the next day.
Last night the food wasn’t good at my favorite restaurant, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt and go back again because the chef probably had just one bad night.
He didn’t have any professional experience but he said he was an excellent barber, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and let him cut my hair because my friend knew him.
Which student should get the benefit of the doubt?
Student A and Student B have the same problem – both are often late to class. Student A has arrived several times in gym clothes and carrying a gym bag. Student B has talked with the teacher about her lateness, explaining that she has to drop off her son right before class, but she seems to be trying to avoid be being late. The teacher needs to select one student to be cancelled first.
Before student orientation that will kick off this weekend, we just finished our 3 day teacher orientation, 2 days online and 1 day in person. We don’t have any new teachers this year because everybody is returning either from last year or many years ago! Welcome back, everyone! We talked about our teaching materials, lesson planning, classroom management especially for this COVID-era, and a bunch of other things. Good luck and health with a new school year!
Since I arrived in New York City, I have enjoyed having coffee outside. What a nice array of wonderful coffee places! My husband and I immediately embraced the NYC coffee culture. Every year, we would go to the New York Coffee Festival, and we would buy the new edition of The New York Coffee Guide. We were always strolling the city to discover a new coffee spot.
You can imagine how delighted I was when I realized that a cozy coffee shop had opened in my neighborhood. I also thought that it was a good sign that this new café was called Inès, as my own daughter’s name is Inès. Serendipity! I started to spend a lot of time at this café, and it became my go-to place. Inès is the place where I used to sit and stay to read my New Yorker, write my papers, study for my English classes, and prepare the Spanish lessons I taught. Its atmosphere was simply perfect for me. As I don’t like to be alone and spend an entire day without talking to anybody, I knew that there I could find a quiet place to interact with a bunch of people and at the same time I could feel safe, listen to cool music, and chat.
But then, in March, the pandemic struck, the lockdown arrived, and I really feared for my ideal connection with this special place. I thought that all these good moments were over. In fact, after a few days, I decided to go outside and to check if my favorite coffee place was still open, and, to my great relief, it was! Of course, no more tables to linger at, no more space inside to be seated and stay for a couple of hours, but it stood tall, and during this difficult time, it became my anchor, a place even closer to my heart. I kept going there every day. I wanted to give my support and express my appreciation to the team. They were part of the essential workers. And they were definitively essential for me! I was also supporting me and my mood. These outings were structuring my day, and it was so important for me to see people outside of my household. We were all exchanging information, doubts, and feelings about what was going on around us, and it had such a comforting and almost healing effect. My daughter, Inès, soon arrived from her university to stay home with us, and I brought her with me on these daily outings to the other Inès. I introduced her to the community, and with her name causing a sensation, she immediately became part of the gang. From March to July, we shared this precious time and place together.
Finally, in August, like a lot of restaurants in New York, they were able to set a beautiful terrace in front of the café, and I spent the whole summer sipping my delicious iced lattes with oat milk and taking my routine up again, reading, writing, and chatting outside but staying close to the hustle and bustle of the place.
I can say now that Inès represents an essential part of my life and of the New York experience I appreciate every day. Having coffee in New York City is being in touch with this lively, warm, and welcoming part of the city. I feel privileged to have found such an ideal spot, and I am happy to have created this extension of my family circle. Today, I cannot conceive my life without it. Having coffee in New York City is much more than simply drinking a cup of coffee; it is going to a place that is an extension of what I call home.