by Leah Koenig | February 12, 2013 | 0 comments
Photo courtesy of Eve Gertzman (pictured).
Repair the World believes in the power of taking a break – an alternative break, that is! That’s why we’re committed to supporting high-quality alternative breaks that focus on service and volunteering during the 2012-2013 school year. Check out how a group of students in New York City helped victims of Hurricane Sandy on their recent Repair the World-supported alternative winter break:
Eve Gertzman, a high school freshman in New York City, spent her winter break making a difference. She and a group of 30 8th and 9th graders volunteered to help out families hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Organized by B’nai Jeshurun (BJ), the synagogue Eve’s family goes to in Manhattan, and partnering with the American Jewish Society for Service (AJSS) she and her fellow participants volunteered with a local church to asses the needs of the impacted family, and help them repair the damage. Now back at high school, Eve took a few minutes to share her thoughts about the experience:
What is your background with service?
In the past I have volunteered at soup kitchens, particularly the one at BJ, my synagogue. And my high school is very committed to community service – every student is required to do 60 hours of service before graduation. But I really got involved last year when BJ hosted a trip to New Orleans to help victims of Hurricane Katrina – even all these years later, they are still rebuilding. My brother had gone on a similar trip and loved it, so I gave it a try. It was such a great experience.
What made you want to volunteer again this year?
I was excited to hear that the trip was to the Rockaways this year. It was wonderful to go to New Orleans, but this program felt so much closer to home. And more generally, I think it’s important to start doing community service at a young age. A lot of people assume that teenagers just stay home on our computers – they don’t realize that we really care about the world. Committing to service is one way to change that.
What kinds of volunteering did you do in the Rockaways?
We went to a family’s home and did whatever jobs needed to be done. This particular family had four feet of water in their first floor and a lot of damage. Their insurance company could only pay for half of the work, so we basically did the other half of the work for free. Half of our group did that, and half went to a center to distribute clothing, food, and water to a line of 50 people who came every day. There were some streets that seemed totally okay, but in other places every single house was destroyed. The neighborhood is nowhere near 100%.
What other activities did you participate in?
On Friday night we went to the local conservative synagogue. It was very relaxed and casual, and a nice way to get to know the community. We also had time to hang out as a group – we went bowling one night, and rock climbinb. I knew a few of the students from the New Orleans trip the year before, but this trip was smaller and more intimiate, so I was able to get to know everyone better.
Do you personally tie together your Jewish identity and your commitment to service?
Definitely. All religions have an outlook on service, but I think the Jewish religion really emphasizes it. Going with a group of students from my synagogue added an important aspect to the trip. During the break our trip leaders reminded us that we were acting not only as individuals but as advocates for the Jewish religion. We partnered with a church and met a lot of Christians and Catholics, so it was nice to be a part of something larger and also experience our volunteering as Jews.
Did you have any meaningful interactions with the people you helped?
Yes, everyone was really grateful to have us there. The mother treated us like her own kids, bringing us lemonade and fruit punch. And we learned from them that, after something like this happens, valuables no longer matter. What matters is their family was alive and safe. The experience made me want to continue taking part in service work. Even if it’s just a few hours after school or a Sunday afternoon, it’s important to actively make a difference.
by Ben Falik | February 8, 2013 | 0 comments
Do it for Detroit is not just a clever name – it’s an investment in the individuals and initiatives responding rigorously to the real resource needs in neighborhoods.
This micro-grant program funds grassroots initiatives in five key areas: Education, Environment, Health, Hunger and Art. The categories are deliberately broad and the application deliberately short, in hopes that we can cast a wide net rather than provide a particular prescription for what the city needs.
The first grant competition, in the area of Education, will take place this Saturday, February 9th at 7:00pm at the Woodbridge Community Youth Center at 1200 W. Canfield (right between the Lodge and Trumbull). The event is free and promises to make for an inspiring evening, as everyone in attendance will have a chance to vote for which of the three finalists should receive the $3000, $1000 and $500 awards.
I could wax poetic about all 37 micro-grant applications we received — about how each brings a socially entrepreneurial approach to building bright futures for young people, with potential even greater than the obstacles they are trying to solve for — but there is certainly no substitute for hearing them tell their stories Saturday. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at what they’ve got cooking:
- MotorCity Urban Summer Enrichment (MUSE). Detroit has the lowest high school graduation rate of any major city in the United States, and consequently, a small percentage of its young people go on to graduate from a four-year college or university. This monumental issue was the premise behind the founding of MotorCity Urban Summer Enrichment, an academic summer enrichment program, in the summer of 2009.
- MUSE, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, was founded in Detroit, Michigan, by undergraduates at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and Denison University. One of the three co-founders was a former Detroit Public School student and knew first-hand of the great need to provide Detroit youth with academic enrichment and access to educational opportunities in order to both mitigate summer learning losses and strengthen the students’ social networks.
- Detroit Food Academy Training. Michigan’s youth unemployment rate is the highest in the nation. This devastates the professional development of the 70,000 high school-aged youth in Detroit and separates youth from community engagement.
- Detroit Food Academy Training is a collaboration between local high school students, food-based business, and neighborhood markets to promote food justice and build the local food economy in Detroit. The training offers a 20-week, 120-hour certificate program powered by three threads: Kitchen, Conversation, and Community. Students graduate with a polished food product, a certificate in food entrepreneurship, a network of potential employers, and acceptance into the program’s summer Entrepreneurship Camp.
- $cholarship Detroit. Detroit schools lack the resources to steward their students successfully through the college-application and financial-aid process, jeopardizing the opportunity for capable, motivated students to access quality, affordable higher education. $cholarship Detroit aims to provide students with the educational and financial tools to succeed at the university level in four aspects:
- Creating and presenting academically competitive students.
- Guiding students through the scholarship application process in a meaningful and aggressive manner.
- Provide students with the knowledge to navigate the financial-aid process to ensure that they are receiving the proper public support that they are entitled to.
- Continue to support and motivate participants to be active in their community post high school graduation through service initiatives with Scholarship Detroit and other community organizations.
We look forward to seeing some of you on Saturday. Have any questions? Feel free to reach out to Ben Falik, Repair the World’s Manager of Detroit Service Initiatives, at [email protected].
Funding for the Di4D comes from the 2012 Pitch Ford DEtroit softball tournament.
More info: http://www.doitfordetroit.com/
The DI4D micro-grant competitions are managed by two Jewish community organizations:
Repair The World: http://werepair.org/
DI4D micro-grants are available to individuals, groups and organizations for programs in Detroit, Highland Park or Hamtramck that engage the general community in a meaningful way through volunteer service. Forthcoming events will be dedicated to hunger, the arts, health/nutrition and the environment.
by admin | February 7, 2013 | 0 comments
Ali Schumacher (second from left) volunteering in Croatia. Photo courtesy of Ali Schumacher.
Repair the World believes in the power of taking a break – an alternative break, that is! That’s why we’re committed to sharing the stories of alternative breaks that focus on service and volunteering. Check out how Ali Schumacher, a junior at the University of Maryland, spent her winter break serving in Croatia with University of Maryland Hillel and SOS International:
“Do my actions actually impact others?” This is a question I often ask myself when I volunteer or donate money, but do not see the direct impact of my service.
With this question in mind, I decided to attend an alternative break trip with the University of Maryland Hillel and SOS International, a Jewish organization that organizes educational travel experiences. I wanted a combination of Jewish learning and service as well as the opportunity to share a meaningful experience with students with similar interests, and this seemed like a great fit.
So, this past winter break, I and twelve other students traveled to Croatia to visit and help strengthen the small Jewish community there – a community that had been drastically impacted by the Holocaust, but is striving to maintain a Jewish lifestyle.
We visited the Lauder school (a Jewish school) in Zagreb, Croatia’s capitol, where we gave a presentation about Jewish life in America. The students wanted to hear more about our experiences in college and viewed us as Jewish role models. Afterward, their school let us know that the students wanted to Skype with our group once a month, to continuing building that relationship.
While there, we had the chance to attend a bris, the tenth bris in the community in recent years. The night before, I ended up staying late at the Lauder school with the Rabbi, his wife, and three other students on the trip to prepare food. We made challah for the bris itself and 60 mini challot to leave for the students and staff at the school. It felt amazing to be taking initiative and completing this extra act of kindness; we were doing something that the school would really appreciate.
We also spent time at the SOS Children’s Village in Lekenik, Croatia. There, we sang and danced with the children, did karaoke, taught them a few English words, and learned some Croatian words. We even all did the Gangham Style video dance together! Although we shared little language in common, we were still able to connect and have a great time together.
SOS International builds long-term relationships with the communities they strive to help. Keeping in touch with those in the community will reinforce our lasting impact. As a group, we are planning on pursuing different hands-on service opportunities this coming semester, rather than just donating money. The actual acts of kindness create the connection and leave an impact on both individuals involved. It is important to find the Jewish community, connect with them and make them proud to be Jewish. Human connection and human help are irreplaceable.
Teaching and acting as role models for those younger than me was an incredible leadership opportunity. And being present for the bris meant so much to the family and community. I have realized the more I give, the more I get.
by Leah Koenig | February 5, 2013 | 0 comments
Scene from mtvU's "College Dispatch" show.
College students: are you a diehard music fan, and also into activism and service? Do you spend half your extra-curricular time as a DJ at your university’s radio station, and the rest helping to advance human rights – but never had a chance to bring the two passions together? Now you can.
mtvU is a seriously awesome offshoot of MTV Networks, and a 24-hour television channel available at more than 750 college and university campuses across the country. Musically, it focuses on indie rock, pop punk, and hip hop, and it also features college-specific programming like Campus Dispatch (student correspondents discussing topics like Teach for America and student veterans) and Hire Learning (hilarious and informative tales from real-life job interviews).
But here’s the kicker: In addition to it’s musical and programmatic awesomeness, mtvU offers tons of ways to get involved with important causes around the world. Here are just a few:
- Against Our Will: mtvU’s campaign against human trafficking in all its forms: sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and all other types of modern day slavery. The campaign shares the facts, and gives opportunities for you to get involved.
- Half of Us: mtvU’s campaign to start a public dialogue about mental illness and depression within the college community. It includes tons of ways to get involved and help others who are dealing with stress, depression, anxiety, trauma and other mental health issues.
- Fulbright-mtvU Fellows: An amazing opportunity for college students to travel around the world and promote the “power of music.” One former Fulbright-mtvU fellow, Aaron Shneyer, founded Heartbeat, an organization that unites Israeli and Palestinian youth musicians through music.
Sound great? We think so. Tune in and plug in to mtvU’s work, and make a difference!
by Sophia Chitlik | February 4, 2013 | 1 comment
We’ve been raised to be risk averse, which means being extremely wary of topics that might be offensive – or that make people uncomfortable. But without the risk that comes from a real, honest discourse about the things that matter – like education inequality, or history, or poverty – there can be no real change. When we talk about a lot of these things, we’re often talking about entire webs of “tough stuff”: race, class, institutions, or even ourselves. So it’s important to get real, and to get talking.
In honor of Black History Month, I want to talk about race. And while we’re being honest, what I want even more is for you to talk about race – because talking is how we learn, and learning is the foundation for action (please don’t run away!).
For our Shabbat Suppers project, we put together an easy guide to tackle a tough topic. When you’re ready to show off your gift of gab, here are some key pointers for how to have a respectful discussion about race:
- Acknowledge that race might be uncomfortable to talk about (woo hoo – one down!). It’s sort of the elephant in the room, but in many cases, it helps to say out loud what others are feeling.
- Set group ground rules. Collectively, decide on a set of rules for your discussion – even if it’s with your mom, or your best friend. These could be formal, such as “whoever holds the spoon speaks,” or “if you agree, wave jazz hands.” These rules could also be more informal, including “whatever is said in this room, stays in this room.”
- Everyone speaks from their own perspective. Please do not look to people of different backgrounds to speak on behalf of their race, gender, or ethnicity. Individuals can only speak to their own experiences, and it puts unfair pressure on a person to ask him or her to represent their cultural identity.
You might find that people have never talked open and honestly about race before, and you might have an opportunity to really educate your friends and family members about the many misperceptions about race and racism. Here is a list of the most common, and how to handle them if (and when) they come your way:
- “Race is a fact of life.” Race is actually a completely artificial social construct. No genetic, personality, or intellectual differences exist between people of different races. Explain that race was invented to classify people.
- “I’m not racist!” While most people harbor very little ill-will towards people of other races, they may continue to make assumptions about others based on race. That includes you…and me…and everyone we know. In order to combat racism and tackle misperceptions, we first have to acknowledge that we are all somewhere on a spectrum of racial prejudice. Once you take the guilt out of the word, you can have an open conversation about the issue. Acknowledge the reality of racism as a spectrum, not as a dirty word.
- “We live in a post-racial society.” Racism is still virulent in America, and all over the world. While our generation has a more open mind about race and inequality, racism is still a defining part of the American experience.
But what should you do if a conversation about race becomes really uncomfortable? Like people are beginning to yell. Or cry. Or they just have that look that says “get me out of here.” All is not lost!! What to do when disagreement arises:
- Avoid “right” and “wrong”: While some opinions are commonly accepted as “right,” it is unproductive to cast someone’s statements or beliefs as “wrong.”
- If you’re offended, educate – don’t blame. Ignorance is not animosity. Use “I feel” (it’s less accusatory) to discuss how their statement might be perceived, or how it was perceived by you personally.
- Try not to use charged language such as “bigot” or “racist”: If someone says something offensive, assume that they simply do not realize that they have said something hurtful. Calling them a racist is one surefire way to make the situation a lot worse. Use the opportunity to educate.
- Provide context. Even though it’s difficult, try to explain why you believe what you believe. Provide examples, facts, and stories to illuminate your opinions, and encourage others to do the same.
Still terrified? Watch this awesome TED talk by Jay Smooth about how he learned to love race, and get PUMPED!
by Leah Koenig | January 31, 2013 | 0 comments
Hidden LA participants doing some park restoration and cleanup. Photo courtesy of USC Hillel.
Repair the World believes in the power of taking a break – an alternative break, that is! That’s why we’re committed to supporting high-quality alternative breaks that focus on service and volunteering during the 2012-2013 school year. Check out what the students at University of Southern California did on their recent Repair the World-supported alternative winter break:
This past December, 12 students at USC joined together for three days of service on an alternative break program called “Hidden Los Angeles – Nature and Need.” The idea? Los Angeles is a big place, and it can be challenging as a student to see the city beyond the campus gates. “Hidden LA” aimed to give students a chance to interact with the city’s diverse communities, explore the urban area’s green spaces, and leave a positive impact through volunteering.
During the program, which was organized by Hillel at USC and sponsored in part by Repair the World, students volunteered with an innovative environmental organization called TreePeople. They learned about Los Angeles’ native plants and trees, and participated in planting trees and restoring the natural environment. The group of participants came from many different backgrounds, both Jewish and not, which added an element of interfaith exchange to the learning.
During the packed alternative break, participants also worked in an urban organic garden at a youth leadership program called Taking the Reins, participated in a beach cleanup, and volunteered to sort and package food with One Voice, an organization that provides food for underserved families living in Los Angeles. Over Shabbat, the students spent time with residents at Beit T’shuvah, one of the only full-service treatment centers for Jewish addicts in the US.
Participant response was unanimous: their winter break ruled! But don’t take it from us. Read on to see what three USC students had to say about their alternative break:
What was the most rewarding aspect of the trip?
- “The most rewarding part of the experience for me was nurturing trees in Stetson Ranch Park. TreePeople really put us to work, carrying heavy buckets of mulch and digging around trees, all on a cold and windy day. I definitely slept well that night!” Stephen Siegel
“From food and gardening, to horses, health, nature, and wildlife, I learned so much about the environment in a short time.” Gana Zagdbazar
- “Definitely the sense of unity and camaraderie I felt the group experienced through collective service. We all came from a diverse range of academic majors, religious beliefs, and nationalities, yet we were united in our vision and efforts to make the world a better place. Shalom, Salam, Tikkun Olam – whatever you want to call it – we all were working to achieve the same goal.” Shawn Feldman
What surprised you the most about the experience?
- “I am an engineering student who wants to make a difference in the world. But I forgot that I can make a difference on daily basis by just having a small carbon footprint.” Gana Zagdbazar
- “I was most surprised in the organic garden at Taking the Reins. Our host took us on a tour of the garden, and showed us edible leaves and aromatic plants. The compost demonstration was also fascinating.” Stephen Siegel
by Leah Koenig | January 30, 2013 | 0 comments
Photo courtesy of Tamar Kornblum (pictured).
In the days and weeks following Hurricane Sandy, tens of thousands of people pitched in to help their neighbors and communities – and many people continue to help with the rebuilding efforts today. Their individual and collective generosity of spirit was and is truly remarkable. In honor of their service, Repair the World is interviewing people who saw a need, stepped up and made a difference.
Volunteer: Tamar Kornblum
Who she is: Graduate student in Computer Science at Brooklyn College
What compelled you to volunteer after Hurricane Sandy?
After the hurricane happened, I found myself watching all the devastation on TV and thinking, “What can I do?” At first I found it overwhelming to figure out the best way for me to plug in. Then a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she had had a great day volunteering in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn. Having that personal connection really helped.
She posted that the location needed diapers, D-batteries, and a bunch of other supplies. So I went to Target, picked up some stuff and went to the site. At first I expected that I’d drop things off, stay for a couple of hours and then head home. But once I got there I realized, “wow, this place really needs help” – and that I could make an impact there.
What did you see when you arrived?
When I got there, a community organization called Families United for Racial and Economic Equality, FUREE, was directing the relief efforts. Volunteers were in the process of repurposing rooms in the former community center of the Gowanus housing project. Everything was very ad hoc in those first days, and there was one woman, Valery Jean who is the executive director of FUREE, who was in charge of directing volunteers. She was doing a million things at once – she had 50-100 volunteers coming to her and saying, “now what can I do?” She was handling the situation really gracefully, but you could tell that she was taking on more than one person could handle. For example, there was a senior that was out of insulin, so she was taking the information necessary to call the doctor for a refill. I thought, “That’s something I could do.”
I went up to her and said, “I have a bit of a medical background, do you want to send all the volunteers focusing on medical needs to me?” And she said, “That would be amazing.” So I was able to help take some of the load off of her.
What other types of activities were going on at the community center?
There was one big room that was receiving donations. Volunteers there were sorting through canned vegetables, diapers, and other supplies. Then residents of the housing project would line up and pick up what they needed – a bag of food for the night, or formula, or toilet paper. The power was out in many of the buildings, and a lot of people had no access to the outside. So each building had a building captain who organized volunteers going door-to-door to make contact with residents. They would come back to the central room and report that Apt 6A needed ice to keep her medication cold, or 7B is out of food and was unable to walk down the stairs. Then they would gather the supplies and bring it back up.
What other ways did you personally get involved?
The needs seemed to change every hour. At some point, it seemed like all of the immediate medical needs were taken care of, but at that point I wasn’t about to leave. I spent the rest of that day organizing the pantry, which I secretly really enjoyed.
The next day was a Monday, and many people had to head back to work. But while much of the city was beginning to function again, this housing project still had no power. I spent a lot of Monday setting up a mini office area for FUREE, and starting to input some of the information that had amassed into shareable Google Docs. It was heart breaking to see that someone had written on a scrap of paper, “Saturday morning, senior reports being out of food” – and you had no idea whether that person had been followed up with. Digitizing everything was a way of keeping track of all the loose ends.
How did the experience make an impact on you personally?
I live in Brooklyn, and walk past these housing projects often – but I had never really given them too much thought. Going to someone’s door and knocking, you enter into their world. One couple I met had just had a baby the week before Sandy hit. I knocked and the father ran to the door to shush me. At first I was confused, but then I saw this tiny sleeping baby. I realized that all of life is happening in these buildings, and you don’t know it unless you go.
I also learned more about FUREE’s work. They do not normally have a relief arm – that was just a necessary reaction to the needs from Sandy. Most of these housing projects get the short end of every stick in terms of governmental services and support. FUREE is a grassroots organization that works to organize community leaders to lobby, mobilize, and advocate for the needs of the community. I was really inspired to learn more about their work, and see that they are working to make meaningful long term change.
Learn more about FUREE’s work at their website. Do you know another Sandy relief hero? Let us know in the comments below or by tweeting @repairtheworld!
by Sophia Chitlik | January 29, 2013 | 0 comments
You asked us to make it easy to make a difference, and now we’re asking you to show up (for our iMentor info session!)
You’ve heard us wax poetic about how students with mentors do better in school, how they have higher self-esteem, and how they go to do great things in college. If statistics like these or our slew of blog posts have sparked your curiosity, then join us on Tuesday, February 5th to find out how you can make a major impact on the life of a local teen.
From 7:00pm – 8:15pm at Repair the World headquarters, representatives from NYC’s premiere mentoring organization, iMentor, will join us to explain why busy young professionals really do have the time and resources it takes to be an awesome role model. By combining virtual mentoring with pre-organized, in-person group meetings, iMentor makes mentoring easy and impactful for both mentors and mentees.
iMentor is an incredible organization that builds mentoring relationships that empower students in low-income communities in New York City to graduate high school, succeed in college, and achieve their ambitions. Students work with their mentors one-on-one, in-person and online to develop strong personal relationships, nurture a college aspiration, navigate the college application process, and build critical skills that lead to college success. iMentor supports both student and mentor with a college success curriculum, and support from their rock star staff. Best of all, they have the track record that proves you’ll be making an impact: 74% of seniors in their College Transition Program enrolled in college in 2011.
Convinced? Sign-up to attend our joint info session HERE!
by Leah Koenig | January 28, 2013 | 0 comments
Blue jeans may have originally been designed for cowboys to wear while wrangling steer at the rodeo, but today just about everyone wears denim. Including toddlers. And teachers. And even The Duchess of Cambridge. So whether you consider yourself a fashionista or fashion-clueless, chances are you have an extra pair of jeans (or 5) taking up space in your dresser drawer.
Luckily, the people at DoSomething.org have figured out a way to help you clean out your closest while doing some serious good. They’ve teamed up with Aeropostale for the seventh annual Teens for Jeans campaign – an project that enables people all across the country to donate their gently used denim to benefit teenagers who are homeless. Turns out, there are 1.7 million teenagers living without a home in America. And the number one item they request in shelters is – you guessed it – jeans.
Here’s how you can help make a difference: Now through February 10, drop off your extra blue jeans (make sure they are in good condition – clean and free of rips or holes, unless they’re styled to be that way!) to any Aeropostale store. You’ll be doing something good – and as thanks for your donation, Aeropostale will give you a coupon for 25% off a new pair of jeans for every pair you donate.
Feeling extra motivated? Organize a blue jean drive at your high school, college, synagogue or community center and encourage other students and friends to join you in donating their denim. The school or organization that collects the most pairs of jeans will win a whopping $10,000!
Are you involved with Teens for Jeans? Tell us about it in the comments below or by tweeting us at @repairtheworld.
by admin | January 24, 2013 | 0 comments
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Repair has sought to bring you stories from service superstars reflecting on their volunteerism. This week we are excited to feature a guest post by Avigail Hurvitz-Prinz, who volunteered at an evacuation shelter in the days immediately following the storm:
The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is a bit hard to process, but I realized that some of my friends and family really didn’t understand what has been going on here so I’m going to do my best to share some of my thoughts and some of my ideas in order to give folks who aren’t right here (and even some of us who are) a bit of a chance to better understand what’s going on and even a bit more of a sense of how to help.
The actual Hurricane had only the smallest effect on me and mine — our internet went out, and the sound of the wind was terrifying but I went to sleep early and when I woke up in the morning and went outside it looked like we’d had a big storm, but the mat of (mostly green) leaves on the ground and a few downed branches on my block were the only signs that there’d been a storm. That first day after the storm became “hurrication,” particularly in my lovely neighborhood. With no transportation options open, and limited access to computer systems across the city, the day was devoted to walking around with friends, finding the spots that were open and drinking coffee in our regular cafes. The mood was joyous and celebratory, aware of how lucky we were. I ran into a bunch of my favorite neighbors and enjoyed the chance to sit with them and enjoy an extra day of vacation. It took me a couple days to begin to understand the desolation the storm had wrought. I still can’t really comprehend it.
On Thursday I got dressed to go to work, thinking that I was going to go to my placement. But, our computers were down and my supervisor couldn’t get into the office — so she suggested that I not come in. So, I ran back home and thanks to my roommate, got motivated to do some volunteering. I got some donations together of books and games and went to the evacuation center in my neighborhood. One of the best high schools in Brooklyn is in my neighborhood, Brooklyn Tech, and it has been turned into an evacuation shelter, particularly for nursing homes and adult home facilities in Coney Island and The Rockaways. For all of the challenges before these folks they have hot food, heat, hot water for showers, a safe place to sleep, and medical attention whenever they need it.
I went in to volunteer and waited for a while before a person asked me to join her in the gym. She explained quickly that she was a volunteer who was hoping to come back for another overnight shift, but that she’d already been dealing with a medical situation this morning. The folks in the gym where I spent most of my time were people who live in an adult home — most have pretty severe psychiatric diagnoses, are isolated and have very limited resources. In that room most of the people were ambulatory, but slow and often unsteady on their feet. The first thing I noticed when I went into the gym was the smell of a mass of humanity who haven’t been able to change clothes in days. The folks I met who’d been evacuated from the adult home reminded me of folks that I meet at my placement — people living on public assistance who are pretty slow moving – mentally and physically. Just like at my placement there’s a question about why that is — is it their negative symptoms of schizophrenia that I’m seeing? or is this a side effect of the meds they’re taking? or is this just boredom and not being engaged enough?
The gym was full of cots, I’d estimate about 175 in that one space. People are living their entire lives with no privacy, with no quiet, no pillow and one blanket. So my volunteer job that I appointed myself to do was to walk around slowly, making eye contact with the people who were awake. People would call me over occasionally to ask for water or coffee. Coffee was a bit of a challenge but, following the lead of the volunteer before me, i’d stealthily steal cups from the staff lounge. People requested 3, 4 even 6 sugars / sweeteners. It blew my mind a little bit, but the last thing I wanted to do was to be stingy with anything for these folks, given how few resources and pleasures they had. Which isn’t to say that I don’t have complicated feelings about this.
But back to the context. For whatever reason, those places on Coney Island weren’t evacuated until the water was literally coming into their buildings. Their staff of nurses had been with them since the evacuation and hadn’t been home to their families or on a real break since their arrival. They were exhausted and grumpy, and one of the first task I put myself on was trying to figure out how to help them. This ultimately meant finding snacks, juices and sugar for coffees for the nurses and trying to get them to smile.
Over the 10 or so hours that I volunteered over two days I had some of the following interactions:
- A evacuee I’ll call Phil (age 64) serenaded me multiple times (some songs he wrote and a rendition of New York, New York and Maria), shared his diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, told me about missing his wife who’s been dead for a few years and also about the abuse he suffered in childhood. I took him “shopping” in the clothing donations and helped him find clean socks, underwear and some warm clothes. He drinks his coffee with 4 sugars and spends most of his social security checks buying cigarettes and coffee for friends. He was warm and visibly excited to see me each time I came to visit.
- Another evacuee named Margie was separated from her group and had difficulty walking through the building to find them. She sent me out looking — and I was happy to help but spent about an hour trying to track them down (unsuccessfully). After about another hour of work I managed to confirm that they were still there and even talk to one of the shelter staff about her situation and change her misspelled name in the center’s database. She seems to have a tough life and was probably recently homeless and living in a long-term shelter. We exchanged little notes written on scraps of paper. An except from the one she wrote to me …yes, these are trying times but your sincerity really lifted my spirits…
- This one’s gonna be in Jewish code — I’ll translate with more details for you in another email if you want. In talking to some of the residents from the adult home it seemed like the orthodox Jews weren’t eating the non-kosher food they were being served — which means days of subsisting on fruit and carrots and yogurt. I did some asking around and got a little bit of kosher food delivered to them thanks to a local Chabad rabbi and his networks. I did not manage to get a particular evacuee a chumash, though thanks to friends of mine we did get him bsamim for havdallah. So when I saw him preparing to do the ritual I asked him if I could join — and he said yes. So this old, browbeaten, isolated and ill ultra-Orthodox guy made havdallah for me. Using the spices and the grape juice I had managed to get for him. He had no idea what to make of me in my jeans, but I felt like I really had done a real chesed for him. I can’t think of another context where we’d have any interaction as positive as that one, but after havdallah I wished him a shavuah tov and started to walk away when he called me back to say “a gut voch.”
I’ve never done crisis work before — and I feel blessed to have been a little bit prepared for it by Social Work School. I feel a lot of security in the choice that I made to do this program — and that those skills of helping people connect with resources have never been more useful.
I have been having real feelings — guilt, anger, frustration, pride, joy, and then back around to guilt, anger, frustration, pride, joy and on and on. It has been incredibly important to me in the last few days to try to hold contradictions in mind …eilu v’eilu…
I am incredibly lucky and blessed. My friends, my family are safe and sound and healthy. We were, at worst, inconvenienced. And, many of my people are at their best right now. I’m inspired by my two closest tribes — the Jewish community and my friends in Brooklyn. I’m inspired by their efforts. I also observe that the people who are best mobilized are plugging into community organizations that are expert organizers (like synagogues, churches and Occupy).
It hardly conveys how much hard work they’ve done, but I know that they have:
- bought and distributed cold weather clothes,
- biked supplies to distant locations that are difficult to reach due to gas shortages,
- worked overnight volunteer shifts at evacuation shelters,
- planned benefit concerts,
- baked treats for volunteers,
- delivered supplies to homebound seniors,
- and just generally behaved with true menchlichkeit.
That said, there is so much need. It is hard to comprehend from our safe homes. It is also totally mind-blowing to think about how physically close the destruction is. But most of the people I know have resources and can do much to share them. Not just today, but in the long aftermath of the storm.
Some people feel confused about how to give, or guilty that they aren’t able to give enough. I want to put myself out there as a resource to help you talk through some of your ideas and work towards finding you ways to plug in. I imagine there could be some small way of contributing to the relief efforts in a way that makes sense for you. It could be as simple as donating a bit of time or money to Occupy Sandy, or following the posts on Congregation Beth Elohim’s facebook page for up to date information about needs they’ve identified or donating blood in NYC or nationally. Nechama is coordinating cleanup efforts in the NJ Jewish community. If you just have a bit of cash you can buy supplies on this Amazon registry that will be shuttled out to places that need them.
Even though the storm hit the East Coast almost three months ago, so many people continue to suffer. The sites listed above remain great resources to find ways to participate in the relief effort, and new ways to help as needs continue to develop every day. I’m thrilled that so many people have been able to chip in as individuals — but this truly is a national disaster, and deserves a national response. So, don’t forget to continue to help to preserve our country’s commitment to real people, who depend on each other for support in good times and in hard times.
Sending love from Brooklyn,