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Students, Neighbors Connect

Heights Initiative Offers YU Students Opportunity to Impact Local Community

The Heights Initiative is one of the fastest growing student-run organizations in Yeshiva University, with well over 100 participants this year. The program serves as a forum for YU students to mentor, tutor and teach in local public schools or during after school programming, and to facilitate the integration of YU students into the greater Washington Heights community.

Aaron Greenstein, president of the Heights Initiative, was inspired to get more involved in the organization after working as a Literacy Program tutor last year in a local middle school. As a tutor, he helped improve the reading and writing skills of 8th-grade immigrants from the Dominican Republic who were struggling to pass their tests to move on to high school.

“In the short amount of time I spent there, I saw great improvement among my students,” said Greenstein. “I had a sense of achievement and euphoria every time I left the school, and I wanted to do more to help.”

In March, Greenstein and fellow student Adam Berman applied for a grant from the New York City Council’s Black Latino and Asian Caucus. With assistance from their faculty mentor—Dr. Gabriel Cwilich, associate professor of physics at Yeshiva College and the director of the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program—and Allison Rubin, YU’s presidential projects and government relations manager, the City Council later awarded $8,000 to the Heights Initiative to help fund their community service projects.

“This grant money will enable the Heights Initiative and the student-run organizations that it oversees to make an even greater impact on our local Washington Heights neighborhood,” said Berman, former head of the Heights Initiative, who currently serves as a mentor.

Cwilich perceives the organization’s work as an opportunity to bridge the gap between the two populations in Washington Heights. “Each community should see what the other has to offer,” said Cwilich.

One example of the organization’s many successful initiatives is College EDge, a student-run organization founded to inform and educate underrepresented public high school students about college. College EDge works with numerous YU departments such as the Career Development Center and the Writing Center to provide students with proper resources.

“We help students get the edge they need on their college education,” said Jonah Rubin, president and founder of College EDge, “both by exciting them about the prospect of attending college and helping them achieve that goal.”

College EDge runs an annual seminar and fair that helps motivate and prepare public school students for college. Last year’s event drew 77 students from Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx. College EDge also recently launched its mentorship program which pairs Stern and Yeshiva College undergraduates with students across New York to help educate them about college and assist with the application process. Other events featured presentations from YU’s Career Development Center, delineating the various career paths and options available to the public school students.

In addition to running independent programs, the student-run organizations overseen by Heights Initiative meet throughout the year to discuss their achievements, challenges and ways to further improve service to the greater community.

Other projects of the Heights Initiative include Project START (Students, Teachers, and Researchers Teach) Science, a program where YU students and professors design and implement scientific curricular modules in a local public school; YU Bridgers, a group of students who jog across the George Washington Bridge and clean it; bone marrow drives; and a business initiative that helps local merchants improve their businesses and increase revenue.

“It is incredibly important to be involved in community service both inside and outside the Jewish community,” said Berman. “This is especially imperative when we live in a community that is not predominately Jewish. With that perspective in mind, I think that it is crucial that we do our best to make a positive contribution to our local neighborhood in any way we can.”

On Friday, December 16, College EDge will present “Design Your Future: Choosing Your Career Path.” The event will take place in Furst Hall, 500 West 185th Street, room 535, on YU’s Wilf Campus.

Learn more about the Heights Initiative, its various programs, and how you can get involved here.