By Sabina Mollot
Last year, the bathrooms at one local public high school were so worn apart from years of overuse that the toilets overflowed daily, the pipes regularly leaked and the ceilings were full of asbestos. However, they’re finally getting renovated, and a civic-minded resident of Stuyvesant Town is partially to thank for it.
That would be Sarah Shamoon, a resident of Stuyvesant Town and a 17-year-old senior at the Lab School in Chelsea, who’s basically addicted to public service.
In 2014, when New York State law was changed so that teenagers as young as 16 could serve their community boards, one of the first individuals to apply was then 15-year-old Shamoon. She’s been serving as a member of Community Board 6 for as long as she was legally allowed to as she mulls a future career in government.
This is also when she was elected co-chair of the New York State High School Democrats, a subgroup of the New York State Young Democrats. Every state has a chapter of this organization, and within that a high school chapter aimed at getting teens politically engaged.
Last year, she was also involved in “participatory budgeting” with Council Member Corey Johnson. Her school, Lab on Eighth Avenue, was told the cost for the new bathrooms it needed would be $1 million. Shamoon said she, another student, Liam Buckley, who’s now a junior, and parent Alice Ho, put together a proposal and actually succeeded in getting half of that amount, $500,000 to put towards that project.
So far a few of the school’s 24 bathrooms (four floors, six on each: two boys, two girls, two teachers) have already been renovated, Shamoon said, although she’d been warned the entire process could take 3-4 years to complete.
She isn’t worried, though. “It’s a bigger dent that’s been made in years,” she said. “It’s going to be a slow process but the money is there and that’s more than half the battle.”
She’s also had internships with three Manhattan elected officials. The first was with Borough President Gale Brewer, then with Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright and this past summer, with Assembly Member Deborah Glick.
Asked if she might one day run for office herself, Shamoon said, “It’s definitely a possibility, but I’ve got a bit of a way to go. I’ve got to get into college.”
This could mean law school, or perhaps business school. She isn’t sure yet.
What she is sure of, though, is that she loves being civically active, despite the reactions she’s gotten from her peers when diving into evening community board meetings about senior centers and bus service.
“A lot of them think it’s really weird but a lot of them have gotten used to it,” Shamoon said. “My close circle of friends are pretty used to it. They accept it.”
Others don’t get her interest in politics. She’s been asked, “Why do you care? You don’t get to vote.” But, as she likes to tell pals in response, “You still have ideas and you still matter,” Shamoon said.
She added her own neighborhood — and her desire to remain in Stuy Town as an adult — has been a great motivator.
“I’ve seen Stuyvesant Town in all its ups and downs and I really want to be a part of that,” said Shamoon.
One goal on a local level includes improving M23 bus service. “It’s really slow; it really stinks,” she said.
Meanwhile, as a result of her bathroom makeover project, Shamoon has since found herself on the receiving end of all sorts of other requests from classmates.
“They’ll call me at 10 p.m., and say, ‘Sarah, there’s a light out.’ It feels really great to be a resource to people,” Shamoon said.
The only part that’s frustrating, she said, is when she’s asked to get funding for projects through the board, which has an advisory role but no discretion over how city money gets spent.
On the board, she’s a member of the Health and Education Committee and the housing, Homeless & Human Rights Committee.
“I first heard about it when I was working for Gale (Brewer),” said Shamoon. “I wanted to make sure teenagers are heard.”
The other board members, she added, have been welcoming of their much younger peer.
“I’m excited to see everyone after the summer,” she said. “At first some people were very skeptical but now people like seeing me and I like seeing them too.”
Asked about what issues she finds the most pressing or important through her role on the board, Shamoon said the lack of senior services is a priority as is safety and security near the 30th Street men’s shelter.
The CB6 area, which runs from East 14th to 59th Street, is home to the Stein Center in Gramercy and Lenox Hill Senior Center on the Upper East Side.
“They’re very far apart from each other and there’s not much in the middle,” said Shamoon. “They’re great centers but we don’t have as much programming as I’d like to see. Maybe we can work with the city to use public schools after hours or on weekends. Obviously it would cost money for the city but if you look at the schedules for Stein and Lenox there are still times when they don’t have any funding so they don’t have something every hour of every day.”
On the shelter, she pointed out that last year, after the city committed to putting more peace officers in the area, she would notice, when walking through the neighborhood, that there were none she could see. This was brought up at meetings of her committee though and things have improved since then.
“They’re doing a great job in getting everything that was promised to the community,” she said. Recently, this meant more surveillance cameras in the shelter building. “I think that makes it safe for people inside the shelter, too,” said Shamoon. “Some people don’t want to go into the shelter because they feel unsafe.”
As for her political internships, Shamoon had campaign duty at each one, a task she said she enjoyed.
“Field work is the best,” she said. The job, she noted, of enticing voters to pick her candidate outside subway stops and supermarkets, gets easier as it gets closer to Election Day. “People tend to be nicer,” she said, “because they realize there’s an election in four days and think, ‘I should probably see what’s going on.’”
Another recent accomplishment was making a speech as she stood alongside several women elected officials, including Brewer, Glick, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Public Advocate Letitia James at the Women’s Equality Conference.
“I spoke briefly about being a young woman on the community board and about the women politicians up there and how they continue to inspire me,” said Shamoon. “They cracked the glass ceiling so I could serve my community.”
She thinks may have gotten the bug for public service from her parents who both work for the city. Shamoon’s mother’s an attorney for the Fire Department and her father an attorney for the Department of Environmental Protection.
Corrections: The article originally stated participatory budgeting was a project of the Lab School’s Young Democrats chapter, but it was an independent project. Additionally, Shamoon’s classmate Liam Buckley was originally misidentified as William Buckley. Shamoon also noted that she was appointed to the community board, not elected. The story also quoted Shamooon saying she ran for the board, but she later clarified board positions are appointed, not elected.