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.