Ballet and Books has shaped not only my entire Cornell University college experience but it has shaped me into the person that I am today. The organization has allowed me to develop and strengthen my leadership skills, given me incredible friends, gave me a sense of belonging that is so critical in college, and most of all, given me the satisfaction of giving back to the Ithaca community that has become my home for the past four years.
As I reach the conclusion of my senior year and reflect back upon my freshman year, I recall how easy it might be for a Cornell student to get lost on our campus and become overwhelmed when they first arrive. Through a series of events primarily revolving around dance activities, I came across Ballet and Books. Immediately, I found that the organization was something unique and truly special. I knew that I had stumbled upon an organization that would provide a priceless service to children, that we affectionately refer to as “Mentees” and to all of us “Mentors.”
Ballet and Books is special to me as it combines dance, teaching, and learning -my favorite activities. Through my involvement in Ballet & Books I was exposed to the surrounding Ithaca area that is vibrant with diverse people and places. I enjoy all of Ithaca every time I walk into the Southside Community Center to participate in our Ballet & Books events. Each year in Ballet & Books has been a learning experience for me, not just with the children who participate in the program but with the mentors and volunteers. The organization fosters a collaborative environment where we all support each other and learn from each other with the ultimate goal teaching children to develop a love of reading through dance.
As a mentor, I worked closely with young dancers and readers. Each week, it was a joy to see a child begin to develop a love of reading. While I taught my mentee how to spell and pronounce words, she taught me patience and generosity. I felt immense pride as I read books with my mentee and I developed an intimate relationship with her. Moments spent playing on the playground in between reads with her will always hold a special place in my heart.
As a dance teacher, I was able to get to know all of the Seeds (3–5-year-old dancers). I worked with them each week as we combined rhyming with our favorite ballet moves and spelled out words with our bodies. I saw their confidence grow each week as we practiced our routine for our end of the year showcase. When the show came, there were few words to describe how I felt — proud was an understatement. I walked onto stage with my brave dancers, the same dancers who were once hesitant to leave their parents to come into the community center. They shined like stars and watching them become proud individuals left me with so much joy.
As Ithaca Chapter Director, I got to know our families and partners on an intimate level. I was able to witness the bigger impact our program had beyond the community center. I saw mentors become leaders and dance assistants become teachers. I was able to serve our Mentees and their families by being a part of the action plan that provided support to them. When the COVID pandemic began, it was difficult not seeing our families and dancers and missing out on the loving environment we had created. . However, we have and are continuing to adapt and persevere to serve them more than ever before.
As Ballet & Books grew, each of our roles in the organization grew with it. Being a part of Ballet & Books has been a privilege for me. As much as we gave our time and efforts to the children that we serve, the return on our investment of that time is priceless. As my time here at Cornell comes to a close, I am grateful that Ballet and Books was such an important part of my college experience. I have grown as a person, dancer, leader, and reader throughout my time with the Ithaca Chapter of Ballet & Books. I cannot thank this program enough for all it has given me, especially a platform to contribute to something so meaningful.