Founder’s Day May 2011 – “Children Leading the Way”

Good morning! I always enjoy welcoming you on Founder’s Day here in the Meeting House of the New York Society for Ethical Culture. It is an occasion to recognize our shared history and ethical aspirations.

After bringing families together to start this Society in 1876, Dr. Felix Adler wanted to establish free kindergartens so that the young children of poor working parents could spend time away from the crowded tenements where they lived and get a better start in life. The Workingman’s School, started in 1878, eventually grew into an eight-grade elementary school and then a high school dedicated to progressive education that combined theory with practice. So successful was Dr. Adler’s plan that members of the Society enrolled their children, too, and it became the Ethical Culture School, bringing together students from different backgrounds who would develop important and lasting relationships. They would realize our founder’s lifelong commitment to social reform.

Over the years our two institutions – the Ethical Culture Society and the Ethical Culture School – have grown apart, something that can happen when people are busy doing important work, and today most of our members enroll their children in public schools. They come here to participate in our ethics program, and I want to tell you about two of their projects this year – one halfway around the world, the other just a couple of blocks away.

A few years ago, Andeisha Farid came here to tell us about the first parwarishga, or “foster haven,” she started to serve the needs of children in Kabul. She had grown up in war-torn Afghanistan and dreamed of helping orphans, victims of child labor and street children who were forced to beg, so she founded The Afghan Child Education and Care Organization (AFCECO). That year our children held a fundraising dance to raise money to help her.

Every year Andeisha returns, and in March she brought three of her students with her. Together the children wrote a song, “Same Dream,” which they performed at an event to encourage families to sponsor students in six new orphanages and schools for 300 new girls and boys. The next Sunday Clara practically flew into her ethics class, excited about a skype conversation she had just had with a student her family sponsors.

In addition to helping out with our homeless women’s shelter downstairs in Social Hall, our teens volunteer at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church Shelter on Thursday evenings to cook a fresh, nutritious, and delicious dinner for the guests. They have a lot of fun cooking and serving the meal, and don’t even mind the cleaning, dishwashing and mopping that follows. Here’s what a couple of them told me:

“Going to the soup kitchen really opened my eyes and helped me appreciate what I have in my life. This group also helped me believe that people of different backgrounds can come together for a specific reason.” – Anabel Sosa

“My favorite experience was getting to meet Afghan orphans who were my age and learning about how they overcame their hardships. I think it’s important to learn about world issues so we can improve people’s lives, starting in our own community and working our way outward until we have a global impact on the world.” – Julia Cohen

“Helping out at the soup kitchen taught me how to have fun while doing something good for our society. This program has let me be someone who I truly am, and let me realize that I can do something good for our community one step at a time.” – Ali Riemer

Since the NY Society is a member of the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing, some of the teens will join me on June 1st for “Blessed Night Out,” an annual event when activists spend the night in City Hall Park to call attention to the needs of the homeless. This year we are especially concerned about the drastic cuts in state and city funding that will put more of our neighbors on the streets.

And now from all of our children to all of you, and on behalf of the members of the NY Society, I wish you a Happy Founder’s Day and congratulations to the Class of 2011!

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