How Two Weeks Changed My Life: JustCity


by Michelle Trajtman, Opinions Editor

After two long weeks in New York City taking part in a pre-college program called JustCity, I finally made it on the plane home. Left alone with my thoughts, there was no way to keep track of everything I felt. The rollercoaster of emotions included feelings of satisfaction.

I was content, proud, overwhelmed and above all,  inspired. I thought of everything I had learned, the new awareness I gained of the world around me, the everlasting friendships I made and the new step I’d taken on my journey to becoming the person I want to be.

JustCity takes passionate high school students and teaches them about social action. Throughout the time I was there, I visited nonprofits, explored New York and took classes at the Jewish Theological Seminary and Barnard College.

Before taking part in this, I knew about the ever growing selfishness in our society. Being there gave me the opportunity to experience the injustices first hand. Walking the streets of New York changed my perspective on how bad the poverty levels were. The amount of homeless people in every corner made my heart ache. It was so evident that many of them suffer from mental health issues and are ignored to the point where it dehumanizes them. It made me see how there was so much that had to be done in the city I’ve always looked up to. The one thing that hit me the most was that the city I’ve always been in love with wasn’t as glamorous as it seemed on screen.

As teenagers, we sometimes question our ability and effectiveness and worry that we may not have as big of an impact on our community because of our age. Before this program, I often asked myself, “How can I take my passions and turn them into something that will really make a difference?” I tended to have no answer.

There’s not a lot of things that have truly left an impact on my life, but this program was one that not only impacted me, but influenced me in uncountable ways. It opened my eyes to new perspectives and allowed me to experience first-hand what it means to live in a pluralistic community and coexist with people who see the world in different ways. Sharing a home with people from all over the country, with different stories, different traditions, and different perspectives was an experience I’ll treasure forever. I still remember how emotional I would get when we’d sit in a circle and speak of our hopes for the future. How just one small circle full of people who truly wanted to leave an impact made me feel so vulnerable, yet so safe. We were able to take all our differences and build an accepting community anyway, where we learned from each other and maybe shared a few tears.

After this trip, I realize now that when you take a group of passionate teens and demonstrate to them how to use their passions effectively and leave an impact, they will do just that.

Something I always used to worry about was how incapable I felt when thinking about all the difference I wanted to make. I felt overwhelmed at the idea of not knowing how to take the first step. Looking at myself now, I can see how I took the advice I was given and how I’ve applied it in ways that I know will make a difference in my future.

I see myself becoming a person who stands up for what they believe in, one who isn’t afraid to push for things to be done, and especially someone who isn’t ‘overwhelmed’ anymore.

This program had a multitude of effects on me, but one that changed me for the better was the friendships I made that went beyond a mutual sharing of being at JustCity. The people I met shared the same goals and values I hold dear to my heart, making these interactions more than just ‘camp buddies’. Having a group of people who understand your passions and longings for a better future is what made the whole experience even more special.

Having New York City as our playground intensified the emotional aspect of the program. Being able to wander around different parts of the city allowed for me to get a feel of the atmosphere. In such a big place where it seems everyone is all for themselves, we were given the opportunity to meet with leaders of nonprofits, people who were inspirations for me to this day as I find myself becoming a leader of my own community.

There is no doubt in my mind that JustCity left a large imprint in my life. I was able to express myself in ways I had never done before and learn about the importance of social action all while wandering around the city I love. There are times now when I like to look back at those two weeks and remember how happy I was, how I felt so safe and accepted, and how I would always be so eager to tell my parents about my day with every opportunity I got.

I recall leaving the program on the last day and writing something on my phone that I still like to look at as I shape into the leader this program taught me to become: “Don’t ever forget the feelings you felt… Don’t let the passion go away.”