How Volunteering in East Harlem Has Shaped my Experience Living in NYC

Happy Monday friends! Today is a good day because Reading Rangers started back up today! What is Reading Rangers, you ask? It’s the program I have the joy of spending every Monday volunteering at, through a partnership with the New York Junior League and the Supportive Children’s Advocacy Network (SCAN) in East Harlem, New York.

I’ve been volunteering with Reading Rangers since literally the week I moved to New York City, so for exactly a year now. In September 2017 I transferred from the Junior League of Dallas to the New York Junior League, and chose Reading Rangers as my committee for the year. I had no idea I would love it so much, but I look forward to volunteering every. single. week. Initially, I’m not going to lie, I was determined to find a committee with the least amount of work possible. In my defense, I had just moved to New York, and wanted to have ample free time to explore, make friends, try new things, etc. But I was guided to a totally different, way more fulfilling route, and I am laughing now at how I thought I needed so much free time.

Backing up a bit: as I’m sure you know, because I’ll talk your ear off about it if you’ll let me, I went on a trip to Ghana in West Africa last August to teach business classes to micro-loan applicants, with an incredible organization called Videre, so that these micro-loan applicants could better understand how to use their loans to prosper their businesses.

My translator Salumi and I teaching a budgeting lesson in Africa! 

It was a pivotal experience in my life, but I realized that this girl is definitely not called to go all the way to Africa to fulfill my passion of serving others. Lord have MERCY on the amazing people who devote their life to serving all around the world, but I feel like it is absolutely my purpose to be serving here, in my city, 15 blocks from my apartment, on a long-term, consistent basis. To be ingrained into my everyday life, my weekly routine, and not just during one 2-week trip. And let me tell you – it completely is now that I’ve found Reading Rangers.

Reading time! This was the week we made paper crowns during arts and crafts 🙂 

To me, this cause is important in two different ways: enhancing literacy, and mentorship. This weekly program provides consistent one-on-one mentorship the likes of which these children may never have had before. It is crucial for our kids to be able to count on adults, to trust that we will continue showing up for them.

Additionally, we read one-on-one with the kids every week, which has been shown to be imperative to development and building lifelong reading skills. We do our best to instill the love of reading into our kids and it’s so cool to see them build their confidence, and their love of reading. Lastly, this community center provides a meal and a safe place for the kids to hang out after school.

My mentee, NanaLee, has improved her reading skills and confidence reading aloud drastically since last fall, and she’s just my favorite little buddy <3 When 6 p.m. on a Monday rolls around and I’m feeling tired, I remind myself I get to go read with Nana and it give me an extra little boost. Plus – her current favorite series is Junie B. Jones – heck yes! I’ll read that all day long 🙂

Volunteering with SCAN has really shaped my perspective, living in New York City. It’s crazy to me that a very short walk north from my Upper East Side apartment, there is such need that so many people don’t know about. No 18 hour flights to Africa, no fundraising letters, no packing Larabars and tuna packets and water purifying tablets. Just a 15 block walk, and so much work to be done.

New York City, much unlike the suburbs of Dallas where I grew up, is home to EVERY different kind of person. Every possible religion, ethnicity, origin, demographic, skin color, or way-to-be-differentiated-that-I-didn’t-list has a place in New York, and being able to take myself from my ‘Tori’ place to this place each week is important for me, but even greater, important for these kids, that women like me spend quality one-on-one time with them, week over week. Plus, the once-annual bonus of cookie decorating (and eating)!

I always joke that if I win the lottery, I’d devote my entire life to philanthropy. While that’s a long way off from my current reality, and this is only a few hours a week, I feel so lucky to be be living at least a little piece of my ideal ‘if-I-win-the-lottery’ life right now 🙂

Thanks for reading!




Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

– Hebrews 13:2



  1. All children pictured have a photo release signed by their parents. Don’t worry!
  2. If you’re looking for ways to help Reading Rangers, we have a book wish list of books that our kids have expressed interest in. You can find it here.

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