A cliffhanger game of Jenga united two groups of people from very different walks of life -- homeless families from CAMBA's Flagstone Family Center and high school students from Connecticut and New Jersey.
After many rounds, when the blocks finally tumbled, it was as if the barriers separating all of the participants fell with them.
The Jenga game was among activities shared on a recent evening, when teens participating in the nonprofit Youth Service Opportunities Project (YSOP) treated kids and parents from the shelter to a night of games, music and a home-cooked meal at the Friends Meetinghouse in Manhattan.
Founded by Quakers 32 years ago, YSOP provides volunteer opportunities aimed at helping homeless shelters and emergency food programs. YSOP volunteers of all ages have been working with CAMBA programs since 2009, primarily with homeless adults.
This evening marked SYOP's first outreach to CAMBA's homeless families, with youth volunteers braving a snowy night to drive into the City from the Marlborough Congregational Church in Connecticut and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Montclair, New Jersey.
Emma, 15, one of the Marlborough volunteers, says her YSOP experience "changes my outlook on society and makes me realize how much we have."
Zori, 16, who volunteered with her fellow congregants from Montclair, says she was impressed by similarities between herself, her friends and the Flagstone children. "These kids are so bright," she says. "They could be scientists ... or even the next president."
Their enthusiasm was matched by Nick, who entertained the crowd with his ukulele and song. A former YSOP volunteer and current doctoral student, home on a visit from his university in Berlin, Nick couldn't resist joining teens from his Marlborough Church on the trip. His music won over Brianna, 12, who listened to his songs with rapt attention.
Judging by their wide smiles, Flagstone children thoroughly enjoyed their outing. "This is fun," says 11-year-old Kevin. "I like the games -- and the hot chocolate!"
Jaheim was captivated by the perilous tower of Jenga blocks and the hold-your-breath terror when it swayed. "I like it best when it falls," he confides.
Scott, who is Marlborough's Youth director, says that volunteering with YSOP is a rewarding experience for the teenagers. "They are doing something that is not just about themselves." And in giving their time and energy, "they get love out of it."