Interview With Author Natalie Silverstein | Teen Ink

Interview With Author Natalie Silverstein MAG

December 1, 2022
By ss215 BRONZE, Fremont, California
ss215 BRONZE, Fremont, California
1 article 1 photo 0 comments

Natalie Silverstein, an author and advocate who gives back to her community recently came out with a new book titled Simple Acts: The Busy Teen's Guide to Making a Difference. The short guide is full of easily digestible information, resources, and graphics, presented in a way that readers can jump around to different sections as need- ed, instead of reading from cover to cover. The book talks about the author’s experiences and ties them into opportunities and ideas for teens today.

Shriya: I actually checked out all your past work in service and I LOVED the section about how community service is super impactful on a teen's character development. Out of curiosity, how would you say giving back has impacted you as a person?

Natalie: Thanks so much for this question, Shriya! People don’t often ask me about MY personal experience (they only wonder about my role as a parent and consultant, and how service helps us raise kind and compassionate kids). I like to quote the great poet Maya Angelou who said, “I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” I think that’s absolutely true. I have been lifted, comforted, inspired, and humbled by service and the connections I’ve made with other people through volunteering. I’ve been able to see different perspectives and learn from others’ lived experiences.

I am constantly reminded that the best way to feel grounded in our own lives and to stay in touch with our own humanity, is to serve others. And honestly, volunteering just makes me feel good! It gets me out of my own head and I stop centering myself in every situation. I’m so grateful for all of the help, mentoring, kindness, encouragement, and support I’ve received throughout my life, and service just seems like the right way to pay it forward.

S: The guide is filled with great information and advice for teens! If you had to name one, what's a key takeaway you would like all teens to take away from your book? I know you wrote this for your own kids, is there something that you hope they learn from giving back to others?

N: I think the key takeaway for ‘tweens and teens should be that EVERY person — no matter who you are, where you are from, or how much “free” time you have — has gifts, skills, strengths, and talents to share, and that there is a person, community, or organization out there that NEEDS you and would be so grateful for your help and support.

I think many teens feel sort of hopeless right now. The problems of the world seem so big and overwhelming. I get it! I feel that way sometimes, too. But the truth is that every person can do SOMETHING, one small thing, each and every day to make an impact, to make things better. If we all threw up our hands and gave up, nothing would change. But if every one of us commits to doing one small, simple thing, all of those small things put together CAN add up to a big thing, to meaningful change. We can move the needle, we can make an impact, and I think it’s our responsibility as members of a community to try.

S: As a teen, were you involved in volunteering? When did you start? How? What kinds of resources in your community/schools made that possible?

N: I was raised by immigrants who came to the United States from Ukraine after World War II. They arrived here with no resources — limited education, no money, and they didn’t speak English. They worked hard to make a life for themselves — to build a family, put food on the table, to give us a home, and provide an education — and I’m so grateful for all of it. But there wasn’t a ton of free time to do service together as a family. My parents were as generous as they could be to their church community and as a family we volunteered there a lot. They always supported other immigrants coming to the U.S.

My Mom also supported a few national charities like the St. Jude Hospital which cares for children with cancer who can’t afford to pay for treatment. Those are some of my earliest memories of philanthropy and service. As a teen, I went to Catholic school, and we were always hosting fundraisers, or doing “Secret Santa” projects for children in the foster care or orphanage system. Things were a little different when I was growing up, in terms of hands- on opportunities to serve in the community. Most of those were found through religious institutions or through school. I really discovered my passion for this work when I became a parent myself. I think I understood instinctively that the best way to raise grateful, grounded, compassionate, empathetic kids (who hopefully grow into kind, purposeful, generous adults) is to engage in meaningful service with them when they are young.

S: What resources do you wish were available to you at that time, or what resources are you glad exist for teens today when it comes to community service?

N: Before the internet, nonprofit organizations really didn’t understand the power of volunteers, and how to leverage families, teens, and young adults to engage in hands-on work, fundraise, and spread their message. The internet and social media allow us to learn about organizations doing incredible work in our communities, around the country and all over the world, and we can sign up to volunteer or to help in other ways with the click of a button.

And fundraising tools have certainly evolved! We used to go door-to- door with a can collecting change. Now we have Go Fund Me and other platforms, and personalized fundraising pages on websites.

Not to sound like an old person, but as “digital natives,” teens today don’t really appreciate how much power they have in the palm of their hand (through the device they are holding). My hope is that teens use that power for good.

S: There was a summary of the debate about volunteering hours being mandated by schools.
Do you support schools having volunteering hours? Why? When you were in high school was it mandated? If so, how did you feel about it at the time?

N: I think we need to flip the narrative on this whole issue. I think mandating a certain (arbitrary) number of service hours for each student to complete is missing
the point. We don’t want kids to just complete hours to “check the box.” Rather, I think schools should consider service-learning programs through which the curriculum is built around a deep understanding of a social justice issue or community/global concern.

Then, I think schools should provide opportunities for teens to follow their curiosity around these issues and help them find something

that ignites their passions and taps into their talents. Once we’ve done that, teens will want to get out in the community and serve, and they won’t stop at the “required” number of hours. That should be the goal: to help every teen find their passion and purpose. The hours will take care of themselves, and we will have raised a generation of people who continue to serve into adulthood and with their own families.

S: Would you like to describe a volunteering experience that you believe had the largest impact on you? Any life-changing moments you experienced while giving back?

N: I have so many good stories, mostly from volunteering with my children when they were younger. One of my favorites has to do with creating a family service tradition around a holiday — something I strongly suggest to families. We celebrate Hanukkah in our family because my husband is Jewish and we are raising our children in his faith. From the start, I knew we wouldn’t do EIGHT nights of gifts. That just seemed really excessive, especially given my personal history of being raised in a home with limited means. I certainly received toys and gifts for Christmas, but it was never excessive. So I set the expectation early that we would celebrate Hanukkah for eight fun nights, but gifts would only be given on a few of the nights. On the other nights, we would do some small act of service or kindness.

When my kids were small and I was pregnant with my youngest (they are now 21, 19, and 15 years old) we signed up to do a visit to an elderly neighbor on one night of Hanukkah through a senior services organization called Dorot. They matched us with an elderly couple, Betty and Fred Schwartz, who were Holocaust survivors. We would bring a bag of treats that contained a small menorah, candles, cookies, a dreidel to play a game, cards, and a song sheet. We had the best time visiting them the first year that we requested them for several years. They were quite elderly, and Fred had had a stroke so was nonverbal, but we went back to see them for six or seven years, and several times at other holidays throughout the year. We really developed a relationship with this lovely, sweet couple who were SO happy to see us and to celebrate the holiday with us. There were pictures of our kids on the refrigerator alongside photos of their own grandchildren and great grandchildren. So, for me, the biggest win of all was when my kids would ask, in early December, “what night are we going to visit the Schwartz’s?” When they are grown, they won’t remember the must-have Lego set or the hard to find Barbie doll. They’ll remember those visits with the Schwartz’s. Those will be our cherished family traditions that I hope they will try to replicate with their own children.

S: We have a few budding writers on our team. I was wondering if you had any publishing or writing advice for teens who want to write. Any words of inspiration?

N: Well first, I’d say — try to read as much as you can. You can’t be a good writer if you are not a reader. And read lots of different types of books, from a myriad of voices. Then, in terms of becoming a better writer, I once heard the amazing novelist Anna Quindlen say, “If you want to be a good writer, sit your bottom in the chair and write!” You hear that all the time — just take the time to write, and put your thoughts on paper, even if you never publish them. Just the practice of writing is good for you and inevitably, your storytelling ability will improve.

I also love the idea of “show me, don’t tell me.” Let the reader use his or her imagination. And also — be brave about publishing. Submit your essays and stories. Gather feedback, and keep refining and honing your craft. And if you really want to be published, don’t be discouraged
by rejections. Let those fuel your practice. If you love writing — DO IT, and keep doing it, keep putting your work out into the world. You have a voice and a perspective, and the world needs to hear it.

The author's comments:

Simple Acts: The Busy Teen's Guide to Making a Difference is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Free Spirit, and Bookshop. Click here to check it out!

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