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Archive for : Corps Members

Discovering New Ways to Serve

Jay (he/him) grew up in a family where service and giving back were important. “I grew up through Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts so volunteering and giving back to the community was significant growing up. In addition to Boy Scouts, my family also served with Jewish and Family Child Services Massachusetts, delivering food to those who were food insecure. And through that I learned how vital volunteerism is to making sure that the vital needs of many community members are met.”

Jay originally learned about Repair the World through a former fellow and classmate, Monica Sager. “She told me it was a great opportunity to give back. Of course, during Covid I haven’t had a lot of time to volunteer, so I thought this would be great way to get back into volunteering and to give back to the community. I applied to be a corps member and interviewed with the wonderful Katie Hamburg. I was accepted and here I am today—engaging in meaningful service.”

Jay notes that the beginning of his time as Service Corps member was deeply impactful for him, and important. “I found it to be very warm and welcoming, an environment where you could thrive and also ask for help,” Jay says. “The different leaders in the program and organizational partners are all open, very warm, very communicative; they want you to succeed.”

At Boston Repair, during Jay’s first cohort he focused on crafting disability policy briefs with The Lurie Institute for Disability Policy at Brandeis University. He currently crafts housing policy briefs with The Neighborhood Developers in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Interestingly, these experiences transformed Jay’s vision of “service.” 

“Before coming to the Service Corps I always thought that volunteering was getting out there and physically interacting with your environment—physically packing a bag of food to somebody, stuff like that,” he adds. “And now, I’ve seen through the Service Corps the behind the scenes work of developing policy to help people. This work is just as impactful as giving somebody a bag of food. That’s what really has hit home for me—no matter how someone gives back to the community, we can all be a part of creating change.”

As Jay continues his service, he is hopeful that his current role working with neighborhood developers will continue to give him the opportunity to interact with the public and see a physical attachment to my volunteer work.”  

Meaningful Moments in Service

Last fall, feeling isolated in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gracie was looking for a way to make an impact and connect with her community. When she started serving with the Larimer County Food Bank in Fort Collins, Colorado, as a Repair the World service corps member, she was quickly drawn in by the Food Bank’s mission to provide food to all in need through community partnerships and hunger-relief programs, and the difference she saw it make for her neighbors experiencing food insecurity. 

As Gracie handed out groceries, she heard from her neighbors how essential these services were to them, and saw how something as small as a chocolate chip cookie could bring a smile to their face. Since then, Gracie has continued to serve as a corps member and volunteer at the Food Bank.

Her service experience has also shown her how deeply nonprofits like the Larimer County Food Bank rely on volunteers and donations to sustain their work. Year-round, thousands of Repair the World volunteers support nonprofit partners through meaningful service. Gracie lived out the Jewish value of achdoot, or solidarity, and made a difference in her community locally meeting the needs of her neighbors in need.

Service Leadership while Strengthening Community

For Emma (she/her) volunteering has always been important to her with service as the guiding force in different moments in her life. “No matter where I have lived throughout my life I always made sure that I continued to do the work needed to make my neighborhood and my community stronger,” says Emma. 

Throughout the pandemic, Emma struggled to create moments where she was able to make a deep and meaningful impact while making lasting connections through her volunteer experiences. That changed for Emma when she opened up an email from Hey Alma, a feminist Jewish culture site and online community, in the summer of 2021 that featured the Repair the World Service Corps, an opportunity Emma immediately seized. “That email changed everything for me. I had finally found a way to be connected to my community again.” Emma applied and joined the first ever Repair the World Service Corps summer cohort as a corps member in the Bay Area.

As the world began to reemerge and vaccines became available, Emma began working to address the lasting effects of COVID-19 on systematically under-resourced members of the Bay Area community. At the start of the summer cohort Emma was paired with Rogers and Rosewater, an organization that has been bringing hot homemade meals to people facing food insecurity in Oakland every Wednesday since December 2018. The opportunity to organize and run a donation drive for Rogers and Rosewater arose and, although the task seemed daunting to Emma at first, she quickly took on the leadership role of reaching out to Jewish networks in the Bay Area and helping to bring tents, sleeping bags, water, food, and other supplies to Rogers and Rosewater. “Every couple of days when I would check the donation bins they would be overflowing with donations. Those moments were so reassuring and they reaffirmed that people really wanted opportunities to make a difference and were ready to give.”

The role volunteering played in Emma’s life shifted for her over that summer. “I see now that I am capable of doing so much more within my community and that I can lead service work and mobilize others to volunteer by creating experiences centered around service,” Emma said as she reflected on her experience as a corps member. She is committed to service now more than ever. “I learned so much from my fellow corps members and have engaged in such thoughtful discussions around systemic challenges not only faced by The Bay Area community but by cities everywhere.”

Emma continues to serve her community as a member of the Junior League of Oakland East-Bay where she works to support women and children and ensures that unhoused people receive vital resources by running her own donation drives. “Growing up and as an adult the Jewish value of Repairing the World (Tikkun Olam) was a value that was the center of my Jewish learning and through the Service Corps I witnessed volunteers, my fellow corps members, and the nonprofits we worked with live out the value in a special way.”

 

Passion For Creativity

By Amanda Marks, service corps member serving in Los Angeles

I’ve always seen the world as a canvas — not blank, but already ripe and wrought with art just waiting to be seen, admired, and listened to. Around every corner is a story to be found, even something as simple as a little red cup or a door left open a crack. So, when the Repair the World Service Corps introduced me to an organization called Arts For LA, I could immediately tell that it was a perfect match. Arts For LA not only gave me opportunities to work for a cause that I truly believed in, but offered to aid me in my own journey of writing, learning, and creativity. They invited me into their ranks with open arms, and I could not have asked for anything better. Arts For LA gave me the opportunity to look both into the world and myself as a lover of creative arts. Every moment I spend volunteering with them feels right, like I am helping them to help people not only on a national scale, but individually.

But that’s not where this starts.

Judaism has always been a prominent part of my life. Maybe not in the ‘Shabbat dinner every Friday, synagogue on Saturday’ type of way, but there nonetheless. Whenever I got sick, my grandmother would cook me the most delicious matzo ball soup, fondly known as Bubbe Soup. I learned to treat everyone with respect and kindness and to celebrate the world in all of its glory. One of the most poignant ideals of Judaism that I learned and continue to learn about every day is the importance of a mitzvah; doing the right thing for the pure fact that you are doing the right thing. That is how I was led to the Service Corps.

Several people had mentioned Repair the World, sending me their volunteer page and urging me to sign up. A quick read through about the organization immediately sealed the deal. In the midst of a pandemic, connecting with people who share similar ideals and mindsets was not easy. Most days I spent alone, curled up and separated from the world. It was easy to feel isolated, and easier to get used to that feeling. Somehow, that was what became normal, and I knew I was not the only person to feel that way.

While the first cohort meeting was online, joining the Zoom felt almost like I was stepping outside and into the sun. Here they were; people who could understand me, who wanted to do the same things as I did, people who shared a culture. Every single person I met through the program was kind, welcoming, and warm. From my local Los Angeles cohorts who made my time working as a corps member truly unforgettable to the cohorts spread far and wide who made every moment truly feel connected, I found a community that I could feel at home with. Both they and Arts For LA gave me the chance to truly make a difference and find myself in a way I did not know I could, and it is not an experience I would trade for the world.

In the end, I recommend Repair the World to anyone and everyone. It is not only fulfilling, but it opens doors no one could ever expect. From connecting a person to their city, their culture, and people of like minds and similar interests to becoming a part of something that truly, really, and completely matters, it is something bright and brilliant that can change a life for the better. I hope that everyone who comes across this work takes a moment (pun not intended) to join and connect themself to what really counts.

Tackling Food Insecurity

By Elianna Bernstein, corps member serving in Los Angeles

Before the pandemic started, I had plans to leave Los Angeles to start a teaching credential program in Baltimore, MD. By the time the fall of 2020 came around, the pandemic was still at its peak, so I decided to cancel my moving plans. I had extra time on my hands, so I looked into the Repair the World Service Corps in L.A.

As part of the fall cohort, I volunteered virtually with Red Hen Press, which was a very fulfilling experience. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to reapply for the summer cohort in hopes that I could volunteer in person.

I began my in-person work with the Pico location of SOVA, a food pantry, that is one of the Federation’s partners and Jewish Family Service’s many programs to help those in need. At SOVA, I get the opportunity to address food insecurity in Los Angeles by packing bags of food for clients.

I look forward to every shift at SOVA where I start the day by moving bags of onions, potatoes, carrots, and lettuce to a table so that I can assemble produce bags. If we have extra donations of some other vegetable or fruit, I add those to bags too. In collaboration with other volunteers, I pack egg cartons, butter, and cheese as well. Once the bell rings signaling that there is an order to be filled, one volunteer fills shopping carts with pre-packaged bags of cans, snacks, dry goods, toiletries, and miscellaneous items. When the cart is pushed into the kitchen area, we add all perishable items before taking the items out to clients waiting at a designated table outside.

Not only do I get the chance to form connections with other volunteers at SOVA, but I am also left with the undeniably satisfying feeling that I have helped give people access to food and taken part in alleviating food insecurity in Los Angeles. I love the sense of camaraderie among volunteers at SOVA, and our common interest in helping others meet their basic human needs through offering free, nutritious food.

The eagerness to be of service to others is palpable while my fellow volunteers and I fill orders for clients. Another plus is that I get to reflect on my experience with fellow cohort members during our Friday morning Zoom meetings. We are all able to support each other in our work, learn from L.A.-based guest speakers, and form relationships that can continue well beyond the summer.

My experience with Repair the World is especially timely because I will be leaving Los Angeles for grad school in August, and working with SOVA is one more chance to give back to my hometown before I depart. I also plan to continue my work during the two weeks between the end of the summer cohort and my move to St. Louis. I am so grateful for my rewarding experience at SOVA and can’t wait to get involved in more meaningful volunteering in the future.

Planting Roots at Shemesh Farms

By Jessie Duke, service corps member serving in Los Angeles.

The Repair the World Service Corps found me at the most perfect time. Moving through severe physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual burnout meant I was coming face to face with a lot of discomfort that I had done a great job of avoiding for a long time while focusing on being busy, productive, and competent in the eyes of a capitalist, constantly ‘on’ society. When I finally chose to listen to what my body was begging me to do — slow down — there came an opportunity to be of service, as part of a cohort of other young adults around Los Angeles who also wanted to serve for their own reasons.

Being of service to the greater forces of universal love and compassion is of the utmost importance to me. This has always been an intention for my life, but during a time of transition and slowing down, I wanted that intention to bring me closer to the soil of my life. I wanted that intention to connect me to the integrity of my own roots, and the roots of the land I’m on, and to the roots of others in my community. If being of service is really the foundation of my life, I wanted to feel the strength, the softness, and the fertility of that to truly know. By being placed at Shemesh Farms, I got all of that and more.

At Shemesh Farms, I’ve had the honor of connecting to the spirit of the land on the coast of California, unceded Chumash land, while working with adults with diverse abilities to help grow, harvest, sort, crush, and curate herbal salt blends. Volunteering my time and energy has been so fulfilling, meditative, and nourishing to my spirit. Witnessing adults with different abilities who often don’t have the same opportunities make business, marketing, and creative decisions for the social enterprise, as well as getting to work together in the kitchen and in the garden has been so powerful and so joyful. One of the biggest lessons I’m learning is my nervous system has trouble slowing down, but I can do it! Patience and presence are medicine for my soul — and the gentle plant spirits help too!

Lastly, having the opportunity to connect with peers my age during a challenging time of social isolation has been a huge blessing. Knowing they are also being of service around L.A. feels so affirming, knowing I am part of a community that is also dedicated to living out values of kindness and lifting up our greater community.

Additionally, knowing that the global Jewish community and L.A. Jewish community supports values of social justice, community support, etc. enough to have a program like this makes me proud to be a Jew and inspires me to engage more with my community and continue living expansively in the spirit of tikkun olam.

Mental health during Covid: Be of service and get a ‘helper’s high’

Social distancing is as bizarre a term as it is a phenomenon, and, unfortunately, it has barreled into our lives with a depressing velocity. Since the pandemic began, many of us (myself included) have lost loved ones, jobs, housing and, at times, a sense of purpose, because it is hard to operate within society when society is unavailable to you.

Not unrelated to this, no one is a stranger to mental health issues right now. A November 2020 report in the Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health magazine told us there has been as much as an 842 percent increase in text messages to local suicide hotlines, and a Kaiser Family Foundation report from February 2021 noted a 40 percent uptick in anxiety and depression in adults.

That illustrates how intense the stress of social isolation can be.

So many people have required services during this time of such need, but many are restrained from offering help. That is a shame, as acts of service are often what make people feel useful, and provide a sense of community.

It is impossible to think about service surrounding Covid-19 without addressing the importance of tikkun olam. Repairing the world is a central tenet of Jewish values, but Covid’s scourge has prohibited people from observing this commandment through in-person service work. At the same time, by staying inside and trying to help stop the spread, or by getting vaccinated, many are doing acts of tikkun olam, as these public safety measures are what make the world better. They just come as a conceptual challenge.

I know that for me, personally, having been in so many situations during the pandemic where I both wanted to give and receive aid, I struggled when I read articles about shelters closing and lines at food banks growing.

It made me worried, and compelled me to act, though I was often unable to do so because it could pose a public safety hazard.

It was for this reason that I felt lucky to be given an opportunity to give back to my community during this tough time. Through the Service Corps — a program of Repair the World, in partnership with the Jewish Service Alliance — I was prescreened and able to partner with Hamilton Families, a nonprofit that for decades has provided resources to families in the Bay Area experiencing homelessness.

Having the opportunity to help create curriculum for some of the children in their care, and ensure that their electronics worked well enough for students to study remotely, not only returned me to the community that I love, but it also helped my state of mind. I was finally able to give of my time in a way that I believed to be meaningful, and connect with many individuals I admire and respect.

Psychology tells us that volunteers sometimes experience a “helper’s high” that leads to prolonged feeling of calm, reduced stress and a greater sense of self-worth.

To anyone who has the capacity to engage in this type of service: I encourage you to do so. There has never been a better (read: worse) time.

Zoe Stricker is receiving her MFA at Bennington College. She lives in San Francisco with her dog, Fizz. This article originally appeared in The Jewish News of Northern California on May 21st 2021. 

Seizing the Moment to Serve

Image shows a white woman with brown hair taking a selfie in front of wild bushes.In early 2020, Jasmin had just begun her service with the Peace Corps in Ecuador. Everything changed in March when the pandemic hit and she and her group were evacuated from the region. “It was disappointing and a bit shocking, I didn’t get a chance to serve abroad because we were evacuated at the end of our training,” recalls Jasmin. News of the pandemic was still surfacing and nobody could really know what the future would hold. Jasmin had initially joined the Peace Corps because of her belief in the power of service. She was hoping to build relationships as part of her service abroad and make a real difference in the region. 

It was a surprise to come home to Boston, after saying goodbye to friends and family, and after expecting to be away from home for two years. But when Jasmin got home, she knew she had to find ways to continue her commitment to service and begin to volunteer in her local community. 

In the summer of 2020, after being home and witnessing the ravaging effects the pandemic had across the country and particularly in Chelsea, Massachusetts, Jasmin felt a deep calling to support her neighbors. “I was shocked by how negatively Chelsea was affected by the pandemic,” said Jasmin. “Knowing that there was something I could do to support the community meant a lot to me. The community was already facing great challenges before the pandemic, and the inequities were just exacerbated by COVID-19. I began questioning why it took a global pandemic to see the issues that already existed.” That is when Jasmin signed up to be a part of the Service Corps with Repair the World Boston.

For Jasmin, growing up, she saw her Jewishness and service as two separate aspects of her life. “As I started serving when I became older and especially through the Service Corps, it became clear to me that tikkun olam, repairing the world, was a vital part of being Jewish. Serving is now part of both my personal and Jewish values. Caring for others is why service is so important to me now,” said Jasmin.  

Jasmin spends most of her time serving with the Food Pantry at St. Lukes in Chelsea, Massachusetts. She has been inspired by the meaningful collaborations created during her meetings with local food pantries, food banks, schools, and other organizations like Healthy Chelsea and The Greater Boston Food Bank who are fighting for food access equity in the greater Boston area. “It’s amazing to see a group of non-profits from all over Boston come together and share resources that will not only uplift the organizations but allow for greater access to food for the members of the Boston community,” said Jasmin.

Jasmin spends her Fridays stocking the shelves of the food pantry and is in constant awe of how quickly food and supplies leave the pantry, highlighting the immense needs of the families for whom the pantry is so valuable. 

“How I viewed service as a part of my life was reaffirmed in the moments after the pandemic. I knew I was following the right path,” said Jasmin. “Arriving back home last year was when I realized I could actually do service in my community, and that volunteering would become a core part of my life’s journey.” 

Jasmin Bach (she/her) graduated from the University of New Hampshire in May 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Anthropology. She is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer who was recently evacuated from Ecuador due to the pandemic. She has a passion to do good and is excited to do so close to home. During her service with Serve the Moment she served with The Neighborhood Developers to build community and support St. Luke’s Food Pantry to provide food for individuals experiencing food insecurity. Jasmin will be spending 10 months working with The Neighborhood Developers as an Americorps volunteer.

Investing in Community through Service

“Working with my service site, About Fresh, has been incredibly impactful. It’s been a powerful experience witnessing community members gain access to fresh food using food access programs like SNAP and knowing I play an important role in making that happen,” said Repair the World Boston Corps Member, Brianna when reflecting on her time of service.

“Parents are willing to stand in line for over an hour to ensure that their families are able to eat fresh fruits and vegetables.” For Brianna, it is more than a moment for her, it is a reflection on her past. Brianna grew up living on mostly canned goods and often did not have access to fresh produce unless provided through the kindness of strangers at local churches. “It was years before I was able to introduce fresh and healthy food to my daily nutrition because of my upbringing,” said Brianna. “I think all of the volunteers feel the impact of our work, but it’s different for me because I understand how big of a difference organizations like About Fresh make. Because of our presence in the community, these children will now have a more positive relationship with food.”

Brianna often reflects on the narrative that blames parents living in poverty for not giving their children the best food, when the issue truly lies within equitable access to proper nutrition. “The shift comes when we meet these families where they’re at, ensuring they have access to important resources.”

Curiosity and asking meaningful questions are values that have been central to Brianna’s relationship with Judaism. She spent four years converting to Judaism and during that time learned how important it was to never stop asking questions. “It was refreshing to dig deeper in a way I hadn’t before,” said Brianna. As a Corps Member, she’s been able to expand her curiosity in meaningful ways. “Our weekly cohort meeting is not only a time to reflect but to also challenge what we experience and to explore the reasons why we serve. Being a part of a program where we have the space to challenge others as well as ourselves makes the experience that much richer. This experience has become a ‘coming home’ moment in some ways. I’m surrounded by other people who also push themselves and don’t accept things for what they are.”

While serving with Repair the World Boston Brianna witnessed real relationships being built while serving others, creating a volunteering experience that was not fleeting or a temporary bandage to society’s issues. “It’s so much more powerful to think longer term when serving. I know that I can still sign up to volunteer with my local community beyond Serve the Moment and that is so important to me. Like donors who make recurring donations to organizations, I see volunteering as an investment in my community and it’s members. It’s the consistency of the support and building relationships beyond a singular service moment that makes a real difference.”

Brianna sees service and Judaism as intertwined, both offering ways to strengthen and uplift their communities. “What I love about Judaism is that the community finds ways to make others feel welcomed and not alone. Service is such a beautiful expression of that. For me, service has strengthened my connection to Judaism by allowing me to be a part of a group of people who truly care about their community. There is a distinct sense of belonging and love that makes a person feel like they really matter.”

Brianna Elise Goodlin (she/her) has worked as a consultant and her work has been driven by a passion for helping people navigate seemingly intractable problems and find solutions in unexpected places. This also animates her personal life, where she spends time doing work for various causes including combating food insecurity, alleviating poverty, and increasing access to education. As a Corps Member, Brianna served at Beantown Jewish Gardens helping expand their reach through marketing and engagement, and with AboutFresh, distributing fresh food to underserved communities in Boston.

Strengthening Communities and Jewish Values

At the start of the pandemic, Rafael found himself thinking intensely about how to get his neighbors and community through an incredibly difficult reality. “It’s pretty easy to be wrapped up in your own life, but something I truly value is realizing that your time should also be dedicated to helping others. That can take shape in many different ways,” said Rafael. For Rafael, who lives in Denver,  joining the Service Corps was a way to support his community in significant ways and be connected to the Jewish community in a way he hadn’t been in a long time. 

There were several moments of being a Corps Member that solidified Rafael’s Jewish value of strengthening members of his community but most recently, Rafael was placed to serve at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic which was launched to more equitably disseminate the vaccine to marginalized populations. “Communities at higher risk or with an increased level of skepticism were able to come and get vaccinated in a setting that was more comfortable for them,” said Rafael. “Many of the patients were Spanish speaking or didn’t speak much English and I served as their interpreter and helped them book appointments for the second dose of the vaccine.”  

While serving at the vaccine site, Rafael met a 63 year old man who had never been vaccinated before. Like Rafael, he was born in Mexico and they immediately connected through their common nationality. He shared with Rafael that this was his first time getting vaccinated and he was motivated to get the shot because he had lost someone close to him to COVID-19. “I could see the struggle and the pain he was in and I believe having someone there he felt comfortable sharing his story with made a huge difference.” Rafael worked with several people at the site who were nervous or scared for many reasons, including being reported for being undocumented or general fear and misunderstanding surrounding the vaccine. “My job was to also reassure them. We needed to make sure they came back for their second shot.” One woman he scheduled broke down in tears. “She expressed to me how relieved she was because now she would be able to see her family for the first time in over a year.”

Since volunteering at the vaccine site, Rafael has dedicated his time as a Corps Member towards pursuing food justice in Colorado through his placement with Denver Urban Gardens (DUG). “I’ve seen the positive impact of people addressing food insecurity by building their own urban gardens and ensuring that nutritious food gets to the hands of those who need it the most,” said Rafael.  

Rafael continues to strengthen his connection to the Jewish community and his values through the Service Corps. “My work as a Corps Member has opened my eyes to many things that define what a community is. I’ve not only become closer to my community members but I’ve also learned how powerful service is in making a positive impact in the lives of everyone here in Denver.”

Rafael Levy is originally from Mexico City and moved to the U.S. seven years ago. He is currently a student at CU Denver and manages a coffee shop. He is passionate about serving his community and is eager to use his time to learn and uplift those around him.