This week we are highlighting one of our longstanding and dedicated volunteers, who is also an Avenues for Justice Junior Board member: Nina Smilow! Nina has been working with our Participants for close to five years, starting as a volunteer tutor and transitioning into a creative writing instructor.
In 2017, as a new transplant to the Lower East Side community, Nina wanted to volunteer with a local organization. Her sister, who was already volunteering at AFJ, introduced her to Angel. After learning about AFJ’s mission, Nina quickly felt an instant connection with the program. During her first year of volunteering at AFJ, she tutored participants on a weekly basis. AFJ’s Court Advocates admired how Nina was able to relate to and build strong connections with our young people.
In 2019, while pursuing her MFA, Nina developed a teaching curriculum. Though her school offered pre-established opportunities for teaching, Nina decided to pitch her creative writing course to Angel. Within a month of Angel signing off on her curriculum, Nina was teaching her first class at our Lower East Side community center! Nina’s class remains a fan-favorite among our Participants until today.
Nina was the first volunteer to reengage our participants and quickly transition her class to an online platform—all within a few weeks of the onset of the pandemic. The creative writing classes provided Participants with an outlet and a much needed sense of community that they were missing because our centers were closed.
Nina particularly enjoys volunteering at AFJ because she “feels AFJ is willing to help every kid who walks through our doors, and give them the chance to succeed. Especially those Participants who otherwise would have been left behind.” Nina notes that the dynamics within AFJ’s community centers “are more of a back and forth ‘conversation’ which allows participants to be proactive in what they want to say and get out of the workshops.” Since we reopened our community centers this month, Nina is excited to get back to teaching her class in person.
In her new role as a Junior Board (JB) member, Nina has become a rising fundraising champion among the group of young professionals. She has also been instrumental in helping newer members understand the importance of membership and AFJ's services. Nina, and several of her JB peers are kicking off AFJ’s 2nd Annual Spring Run for Justice on April 24th at the Brooklyn Half Marathon. Nina has been training for several months alongside other JB members and she kicked off her personal fundraising page here!
When asked about the inspiration behind her half marathon fundraiser, Nina says, “there isn’t a day that goes by where she doesn’t think about Menkie.” Menkie was an AFJ participant who tragically lost his life to gun violence last year. In the short period that Menkie was receiving services from AFJ, he managed to leave a profound impact on AFJ staff and volunteers alike. Menkie was one of Nina’s students and exemplified the importance of second chances. Nina is determined to help AFJ provide a space for the next Menkie who has the potential to thrive and shine from receiving supportive services.
To learn more about AFJ's Junior Board, please email Wes Muench at email@example.com!