A junior in the NYU Silver School of Social Work (SSSW) BS program, Amanda Raposo is already using her course work and contacts to produce social change in her community. She began by volunteering with at-risk teenage mothers in Bellevue Hospital. “I thought I would be able to make things better right away because I cared so much,” she said. “But I soon saw how frustrating it can be to access the services these girls really need—support to stay in school, job skills to get off public assistance, and a wholesome home environment.”
When her father (who owns real estate in Queens, NY) agreed with her idea of eventually using one of his buildings as a shelter for pregnant teens, Raposo networked at school and met two students who shared her passion. They decided to actually try to start a shelter.
Called Baby’s First Home, this planned project has already attracted 30 volunteers from several schools. Eventually, the partners hope, it will become a two-year supportive housing program. “We knew the project was a reality when we entered our plan and won the first prize of $11,000 in the Be a Changemaker Challenge [through Ashoka’s Youth Venture program],” Raposo said.
The partners reached out to the SSSW and other schools for advice and volunteers. While raising funds to open the shelter, they introduced relevant day programs into the Elmhurst, Queens, community where their building is located.
Volunteers from the NYU College of Nursing conduct classes on infant care and parenting. To teach entrepreneurship, the partners started the following projects: a child care business, operated by school volunteers, which raises money for the project; a community garden, which helps establish a presence in the community and teaches the girls to raise and sell produce; and classes on how to redesign and sell used clothing taught by volunteers from the State University of New York Fashion Institute of Technology.
“People ask me how I can do so much and keep up with my course work, but I tell them that the courses I take help me learn more about what I’m doing in the real world—public health policy, homelessness, and social entrepreneurship, for example,” Raposo said. The SSSW’s small size affords the opportunity to build relationships with professors. Raposo is confident that when she has ideas to try out, a professor will be there to support her.
Attending a Friends Academy on Long Island as a teenager provided Raposo’s first experiences in working for a cause, being a team leader, and raising money. She knew she wanted to attend NYU because of the opportunity to live in a city with a diverse population. When she attended an open house at the SSSW, she met students who, like her, were not only excited about social change, but actually making it happen.
Reflecting on her experience at the SSSW, Raposo asserted, “Social workers are responsible for some of the hardest work society can face. And we’re not doing it for the pay. We’re doing it because we really believe in it. The investment in our education will come back to the community tenfold.”