Building Projects Build Neighborhood Connections

Upon moving into Highlandtown, the fellows began to explore different parts of our new neighborhood. We met store owners, leaders of important local organizations, and some across-the-street neighbors. With every person I met came a deeper feeling of belonging and connection to where we live and work. Still I wondered, as I walked past row home after row home on my way to our workshop, who lives behind these doors?

A few months ago, the Repair the World: Baltimore fellows got word of a tree box build happening just two streets over from our Highlandtown home. The greening committee of our community association had been awarded a grant to fund the building of wooden tree boxes for the newly-planted street trees on Highland Ave. I was eager to meet more neighbors, so I bundled up bright and early and headed out to build.

My work with Baltimore Orchard Project, an organization that plants and harvests fruit and nut trees in Baltimore city, has grown my interest in trees and taught me a lot about the benefits of trees in the urban environment. I went into this tree box build knowing that trees not only serve as beautification and a little extra shade, but also provide stormwater management, increased resident satisfaction, increased home value, and much more. I even knew that street tree boxes and fences reduce street trash dumping and litter and increase the tree’s life expectancy. This project was a win-win for the trees and the neighborhood!

Little did I know, it was a win-win-win…win!

Upon arriving, I was greeted by a handful of friendly residents wanting to know all about me and how I ended up living in Highlandtown. Naturally, I wanted to know the same about them. These conversations became sharing of life stories. I learned about my neighbors’ decisions to move into our non-gentrified area, the jobs that brought them to Baltimore city, and the spouses with which they have started this next chapter of homeownership.

Before we knew it, we were tackling more than just the issues of concrete where wooden posts are supposed to be and drills running out of battery – we were tackling the problems of our neighborhood not only through action but through conversation.

By the end of the day, we had built five beautiful tree boxes and new relationships. Repair the World was suddenly open to many possibilities for future partnership with the community association, with a local church, and with people who truly care about their community.

tree2 tree1

This neighborhood gathering was a pooling of resources that resulted in many benefits for the neighborhood, the baby trees, the community association, and me! I left feeling quite accomplished and very much connected. I now imagine the homes I walk by every day filled with people I know, not strangers I may never meet. Instead of assuming fellow pedestrians are strangers, I look up to search their faces for familiarity.

Now every time I ride or walk down Highland Ave., I am sure to point out to any and every person with me that I had a hand in making those beautiful tree boxes. My pride and sense of ownership in those moments reminds me of how people can really change neighborhoods, one building project or conversation at a time. This project showed me how building something with another person creates a certain bond that is upheld within that structure itself. It stands as a physical reminder of all we can do together, which is why I jumped at the chance to help build a fence at the Highlandtown Elementary/Middle School this month, too!

And the connections continue…

fence1

Lauren Fine is a Repair the World Fellow in Baltimore, MD. Learn more >>

Get Out Your Credit Card; It’s the Holiday Season

As we adjust to the cold winter months and welcome the warmth of holiday celebrations, I find myself entertaining a familiar question: Why does the holiday season encourage such extreme consumerism?

This is only a small portion of the annual internal dialogue that takes place around this time of year. As a Jew who doesn’t “religiously” celebrate Hanukkah, I have been largely desensitized from the advertisements, sales, and general celebratory hype of the season. At the same time, I appreciate the stories of each holiday, value its traditions, and admire the serenity and strong sense of togetherness that each bring. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love holiday music, cookie exchanges, and the ABC Family 25 Days of Christmas movie marathon?

It’s also around this time of year that I anticipate hearing about the most recent Black Friday death-by-trampling incident, the most absurd double-digit number of hours that someone waited outside of a Best Buy, and just how many companies will release slightly updated versions of their products to entice more consumers.

Why has it become this way? Why have we let it become this way?

Perhaps we have figured out that it is more convenient to make someone happy by offering material gifts instead of devoting our time, heart, and entire self to another person, even for a short time. It seems that this has become an easy way out and has unfortunately developed into America’s favorite holiday shortcut.

Repair the World: Pittsburgh recently screened the Morgan Spurlock produced documentary, What Would Jesus Buy. The film follows a group of activists as they travel around the country in the form of a satirical church choir from the “Church of Stop Shopping.” Activist Bill Talen, better known as “Reverend Billy,” seeks to expose the corruption that is consumerism and corporate culture, especially surrounding the festive months.

While the film is unorthodox and outlandish, there lies a profound and meaningful proposition within it: Let’s regain control of our holiday season by restoring the values that make it truly special. Allow your presence to be a present to your friends and family and, most importantly, try to give more of yourself and less of your money.

Becca Sufrin is a Repair the World Fellow in Pittsburgh, PA. Learn More >>

Spotlight On: Divine Chocolate’s Sustainable Gelt

Chocolate gelt is a fun part of any Hanukkah celebration. Who doesn’t love unwrapping a glinting gold or silver foil wrapper to find a piece of chocolate inside? In recent years, a handful of chocolatiers have started turning out artisanal versions of gelt – “gelt for grownups,” as they call it, which focus on using high quality ingredients.

But we are particularly enamored with the coins made by Divine Chocolate. Available in both milk and dark chocolate, they are creamy and sweet – just about as tasty as gelt can get. But even more excitingly, they are made from fair trade sugar, cocoa, and vanilla. That means, the farmers who grow the ingredients get paid fairly for their labor. (It is also kosher certified by the OU.)

Recently, Divine started partnering with Fair Trade Judaica and T’ruah to make their gelt available to a wider audience. 10% of all sales will go directly to these organizations’ work to end child slavery in the cocoa fields.

Delicious gelt without the guilt that also does serious good for the world? Sounds like the formula for a happy Hanukkah to us.

Find out more about Divine Chocolate’s Hanukkah gelt on their website.

“Kavanah”

A month ago, I got a tattoo. My first one. One that I had wanted for years, and I finally decided to put my thoughts into action. I had just moved to a new city, just started my postgrad life, and I needed to do something bold to accompany this life change.

I chose to get the Hebrew word kavanah–meaning intention, focus, or purpose–tattooed on my left forearm. Additionally, it can also be understood as “direction of the heart”.

Throughout the years, I’ve found the concept of kavanah to be continuously inspirational and motivating. I believe that it is extremely important to actively be mindful of what we’re doing, and why we’re choosing to do it at this particular moment in time. Each one of us has a story that has led us to this point. At this point in my own life, I’ve chosen to spend a year living and working in Philadelphia as a Fellow with Repair the World. Repair the World is a national Jewish non-profit that seeks to engage young adults in volunteer work and make it a more active part of their lives. I absolutely love the work that I have the opportunity to be a part of here, and I look forward to the chance to do something new every day.

However, placing myself in the field of social justice and non-profit work comes with its own slew of difficulties. Each day, I find myself frustrated by the racial injustices that our system perpetuates, by the stereotypes that are held by so many walking down the street, and simply by the vastness of the troubles that seem to endlessly plague our society. When dealing with all of that on a daily basis, it can quickly feel unsettling and overwhelming. But I’ve found that despite the frustrations that these cause, we’re all looking for something; we’re all looking for meaning. We’re all looking for the reasons behind why we do what we do, and why others do what they do.

I’ve found inspiration in kavanah, in understanding the intention behind these interactions. Each one of us brings something to the table, and I believe that it’s extremely important to consider this as much as we are able. We’re repeatedly given the beautiful ability to take step back from the situations in which we find ourselves, and become more self aware and reflective. Are we truly putting our full selves into these moments? When I’m out volunteering here in Philly, am I really putting my full effort and passion into that experience? If not, what can I do to see this moment in a different light, and give it my entire self? I find that taking that pause gives me the chance to take a step back and remember why I’m here. Life is full of meaning; we just have to take notice of it. Kavanah continually inspires me to refocus, reimagine, and reconnect, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it helps me to transform and grow throughout the rest of this year.

 

This post originally appeared on the Repair the World Philadelphia Tumblr at http://rtwphilly.tumblr.com/

 

December Social Good Roundup!

In addition to our monthly Newsletter, we are also bringing you a monthly round-up of our favorite programs from our partners and from across the web. The opportunities below are separated by long term (6+ months), short term (6 months or less) and ongoing service, social good, and travel opportunities.

Be sure to check back monthly for updates and new finds!

 

Commit…To Service!     (Long-Term Programs)

You Want To Go To There.      (Short-Term and Travel Opportunities)

Be Social. Do Good.    (Social Good Events and Campaigns)

On Chanukah: 8 Nights, 8 Gifts That Give Back

Adam Sandler got it right with his famous Hanukkah song on SNL: “Chanukah is the festival of lights. Instead of one day of presents, we get eight craaazy nights!” Well, almost right. It’s true that there are 8 nights of Chanukah, but this year, instead of giving the same old presents, delight your friends and family with meaningful gifts that really give back. Here are some of our faves for 2014:

1. CSA Subscription
Give your loved one a season’s worth of delicious veggies and fruits by joining together with a couple of friends to sign them up for a CSA. Your friend will get lots of great food, and you’ll support the work of a local farmer.

2. Krochet Kids
Support this international non-profit that empowers people through the creation and sale of knit and crochet hats. Keep your loved one’s warm, and make a difference while you’re at it.

3. Donate in Their Honor.
Got a friend who feels passionately about an organization’s mission? Make their holiday by making a donation in their honor to support the org’s work.

4. Give a Goat
Heifer International empowers people to purchase livestock for families in developing rural countries. Make a difference in a community’s life by donating to “give a goat” in honor of your loved one.

5. Membership to Botanical Garden
Buy your loved one a year long membership to their local botanical garden. They’ll have fun wandering through the trees throughout the whole year. Meanwhile, you’ll support the gardens’ ecological and educational initiatives.

6. Punjammies
Get a pair of these beautiful, sari-inspired pajamas sewn by women in India who have been rescued or who escaped from a life of forced prostitution. Your purchase will have your loved one sleeping in style, and will support the work of an amazing organization.

7. VWU Certificate
You have heard of an IOU certificate. Do one better and make them an VWU (volunteer with you) certificate, good for one day (or more) of volunteering together at the organization or cause of their choice.

8. Beauty + Ethics
Have a friend who is obsessed with lotions or fancy soaps? Buy them something delicious (and certified cruelty free!) at The Body Shop (“beauty with heart”) and your purchase will help support campaigns against animal testing, that support children worldwide, foster environmental stewardship, and more.

Turn the Tables on MLK Day with Repair the World

“What is it America has failed to hear? …It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” - Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King’s heroic legacy of advancing civil and human rights in America lives on, even nearly 50 years after his death. But in recent months, whether in Ferguson, Missouri, Staten Island, New York, or countless other cities and towns across the country, there have been too many reminders that the work to ensure justice and freedom for all our country’s citizens is far from complete.

That is why this year, in honor of MLK Day, Repair the World is launching Turn the Tables – an initiative that promotes the principles at the center of Dr. King’s ideology, and works towards the promise of a more just society. The road ahead is long, so we must walk it together.

There are two ways to get involved over MLK Day weekend:

Host a Shabbat Supper
On January 16, turn your table into a forum for conversations about justice. Shabbat has traditionally been a sacred weekly time for Jews to gather with those closest to them. Repair the World invites everyone to use the Shabbat before MLK day as an opportunity to break bread and reflect on racial injustice issues that are on the minds of Americans following the tragic events in Ferguson, Staten Island and elsewhere.

Take Action
MLK Day is a nationally recognized Day of Service. On January 19, join thousands of Americans across the country in making our communities stronger and standing up to the challenges of racial inequality in meaningful and tangible ways. Sign up to make the commitment to make a difference for a cause you care about.

Learn more about Repair the World’s Turn the Tables initiative and get access to tons of resources for MLK Day and beyond.

Repair Inspiration: America’s Top Charitable Causes

Whether it is environmental action, women’s health, or human rights, you know which issues you feel most passionate about. And you likely know which causes get your friends and family fired up too. But what about the country as a whole?

Mashable published an article about a recent poll tracking charitable donations in the United States. In exciting news, charitable giving increased in 2013 for the first time in 5 years!

Curious how Americans give and what they give to? Read the excerpt below, or check out the whole article at Mashable. You can also read the in depth report at Harris Interactive, the organization that conducted the poll. How do your own interests compare with your fellow Americans?

The Charitable Causes Americans Care About Most
By: Matt Petronzio

According to a recent Harris Poll on charitable donations in the U.S., overall giving increased in 2013 — the first time since the 2008 recession. One in four Americans feel it’s their personal responsibility to help make the world a better place by being actively involved in causes and issues, while an additional 17% believe it’s important to volunteer and donate to charity.

When it comes to specific causes, 18% of Americans say they care most about youth and families, followed by animals (12%), medical research (12%) and education (11%). There are some discrepancies, however — one could argue education is an important facet of youth and families-related causes.

Read more…