A native Brooklynite, 17-year-old Helen Chen is a high school senior who lives in Borough Park.
“My strongest memory of Brooklyn is the street where I grew up,” Helen said. “It is quiet, sleepy but can also be loud and pulsating with energy – kids on bicycles and mothers with kids.”
She applauds Brooklyn’s growing diversity and improvements to its infrastructure. But there’s still more work to be done across the borough. Helen points to problems with sanitation and maintenance.
“My local park oozes with odor from trash and other debris stashed there. Roads and old infrastructure are not properly maintained,” she added.
Helen attends the High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies and completed her junior year through virtual classes from home. On a scale of 1 to 10, Helen gave her school a 6.5 for how well it pivoted from in-class learning to remote learning.
The educational content was fine, but the transition for the administration and teachers was rocky during the first few weeks, she recalled. Eventually, they figured things out.
Helen is interested in a social sciences career. She plans to major in political science or international affairs in college.
Her vision is to apply what she learns “to make the world a better place.” She wants to impact domestic and international policies to make society more inclusive and equitable.
During the lockdown, Helen quarantined at home with her parents, who seldom ventured outside. “My contact with the outer world was severely limited,” she recalled. “I was afraid that my family or me would get infected. I was concerned whenever someone went out of the house.”
The COVID-19 pandemic was one of the most pivotal experiences for Helen.
“I more clearly recognized the disparities exposed by the pandemic and the vulnerability of life. I now appreciate health and well-being more and realize that many things we deem necessary may not really be.”
It also opened her eyes to the bigotry in New York City, referring to the hate crimes committed against Asian-Americans during the pandemic. Prior to that, Helen was always surrounded by open-minded, progressive people.
“Some people search for scapegoats when there’s misery in their life,” she said. “It’s very unfortunate that we see this tendency.”