Partnership for After School Education

Biography

Megan Nolan came to New Settlement in the Bronx in 1996 as a graduate school intern as part of her studies at The Hunter College School of Social Work.  Inspired by the commitment of the teenagers in the program to community service projects, she devoted her internship to creating a program that would encourage and expand the community service options, in addition to adding an advocacy component.  In turn, Nolan joined with twelve teens to create "The Bronx Helpers", a program for young people ages 12-19 that uses service as a vehicle to learn about underlying societal issues. 
 
Over the years, the program has become more comprehensive and is run full-time, five days a week, with Nolan as its full-time Program Associate.  Their service projects are extensive and touch all members and areas of their community.  They include community arts activities with the elderly, creating community murals, designing and facilitating an arts carnival for homeless children in a shelter, and contributing to the environment of the neighborhood by cleaning up parks and other recreational spaces.  The advocacy work of the Bronx Helpers includes speaking with elected officials in Albany to advocate for youth funding, coordinating a neighborhood candlelight vigil to raise awareness of domestic violence and its impact on children, canvassing for a tenant organizer, and educating members of the community about home dangers such as lead poisoning and encouraging fire safety.

Moreover, the Bronx Helpers has an extremely high retention rate, as many youth have been there for over five years.  Nolan attributes this success to the youth-run nature of the program.  Speaking of one woman in particular, Nolan said that she stayed because she saw that "her voice really counted." 

Nolan's fellow staff members and young people have stressed the positive effect her warmth and creativity have had on the organization.  She is regularly sought for advice and support, often in the form of informal, drop-in sessions in her office.  Moreover, her mission has clearly been fulfilled, as she has instilled a sense of social justice in the youth she serves.  Since her involvement in the program, other staff members have heard statements from the young people such as: "If you don't like what's going on, do something to fix it." and "We deserve better, this isn't right!"