Archive for : Disaster Relief & Recovery

Spreading Good this Holiday Season

Giving is to Winter like sour cream & applesauce are to latkes: we hope you spread ‘em generously! Whether it’s serving meals to the hungry, supporting Sandy recovery efforts or igniting a child’s passion for reading, the festival of lights offers many ways to give. How can YOU spread good this holiday season?

In Repair the World’s hometown, thousands of people still need heat and light in their homes following hurricane Sandy. We hope you’ll help spread some good, and share some light in these darker times by giving a gift that no one – and no hurricane – should take away: education.

What can YOU give to promote literacy across the country?

TIME: The Repair the World team is hosting a HoliDay of Service on 12/9 in New York City to create educational gifts for the students of PS 253 in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn! Packed with school supplies, a new book, and a battery-operated reading lamp, these literacy kits that will be donated to the students  whose school was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Older students will use these kits over winter break to read aloud to younger students, which means each book will have a double impact! Sign up to join us (space is limited so chime in quickly!). Can’t make it to the event? Organize one of your own with this tipsheet. You can also donate books through our registry here.
BOOKS: Reach Out and Read is an incredible national organization that reaches almost 4 million (!) students each year. By “prescribing” books to their patients, pediatricians and medical professionals become education allies. You can join them by participating in our online book drive, which lets you virtually pick books to donate to local communities. Your efforts will help children build early literacy skills, making them more ready (and excited!) to read when they enter school.
GELT (MOOLAH): With low-income, public schools facing a dearth of resources, the innovators at Donors Choose have created a way to create micro-change out of pocket change. Donors Choose gives public school teachers a platform to fundraise for the specific needs of their students. Donors Choose has thousands of pages posted by teachers in all 50 states. Requests range from laptops and microscopes to basic markers and crayons, and each dollar donated goes directly to fund teacher’s projects. Search by zip code to help a teacher in your neighborhood, or donate to classrooms that have been impacted by Hurricane Sandy.
e-NSPIRATION: Share this post with your friends so they can get in-depth updates about how to hit the ground volunteering. If 8 (as in nights in Chanukah!) people list you as a reference when they sign up for our newsletter, you’ll get an awesome Repair the World tee – now available through our online store!

And don’t forget to check out our 8 nights of Sandy Service for tips on how your small differences can add a whole lot of light.

A View from the 39th Floor

Post by Jacqueline Broder, Marketing & Communications Manager for Repair the World

Climbing 140 flights of stairs will make you appreciate a lot of things in life. For example, if you multiply those 140 flights by 14 (the number of stairs in each flight) one might find themselves practically thanking-out-loud specific muscles in their body for not completely shutting down. Most importantly, 1,960 stairs will provide anyone with an opportunity to think about the journey to the top, and the stops on the way down.

Like many New Yorkers, since word came out about Hurricane Sandy, I’ve been glued to various media networks and social media channels. Repair staff has worked tirelessly to both compile and promote existing volunteer activities all over the east coast. But we are definitely not alone in our efforts. Thanks to the local, timely, and help-right-now-in-your-own-backyard-type of coverage from publications like the Tribeca Tribune, I was recently able to provide assistance to neighbors just a mere three to four blocks away from my apartment.

After reading “Volunteers, Staff, Work to Bring Supplies to Stranded IPN Tenants,” I reached out to reporter Jessica Terrell who immediately put me in touch with the right folks; In this case, Chabad of Tribeca, JCP Downtown, and Julie Menin had joined forces to knock on over 3,000 doors of residents in lower Manhattan to deliver non-perishable food, bottled water, toilet paper, batteries, newspapers, and flashlights.

As a resident of Battery Park City, it had never occurred to me that so many people in my neighborhood had decided not to evacuate or simply had nowhere to go.

In each of the buildings I visited, I had agreed to the top floor shift; in other words, climbing in pure darkness (guided by a small headlamp) to the highest possible floor and working my way down. I had initially figured that I would knock on empty doors and that my voice would blindly echo down deserted corridors. Sadly, I was wrong. While the road to the top was a feat in and of itself, the climb down was ever more painful.

Picture this:

  • A father stays behind on the 36th floor to take care of his special needs son, confined in a wheelchair and unable to physically make the trip to another location because of the emotional trauma it would cause.
  • A daughter on the 33rd floor tends to her 91 year-old mother whose nurse is stuck in the Rockaways…the daughter hasn’t eaten a full meal in three days and is on her last can of tuna.
  • An elderly woman on the 35th floor who recently lost her husband is scared and hasn’t spoken to anyone in days. Stuck on an empty floor and physically incapable of walking down the stairwell to seek help, she’s absolutely thrilled to see human contact and is eager to share her family photos and stories from her life during World War II.
  • And perhaps most reminiscent – Esther, an 83+ year old woman on the 39th floor who a few years ago received triple bypass surgery and most recently suffered from a stroke, opens the door covered in blankets, hats, and scarves…shaking and scared…the mere sight of another person making her collapse in tears.

Rumor has it that Jay-Z bought a generator for his building. I can’t tell you how many stairs were spent wishing that I could have pulled that off for the buildings I visited during my volunteer efforts!

And yet, I never quite had enough time to wallow or succumb to the depressing nature of things. Despite their predicament, all of the people I encountered proved one thing to be true –no matter what, NEVER mess with a New Yorker! These people still operated with the strength, hope, determination, and positive energy needed to survive. Each resident was comforted knowing that someone cared enough to say hello or that help (and hopefully power) was on the way. These folks were true grit New Yorkers, willing to tough it out and make light of the situation. At one point, I was even bombarded by a host of women who were absolutely thrilled to have received “oooouurrr first trick-or-treeeeeater!”

I remember, so vividly, many of the people I met because I took the time to stick around and hear their stories; where they were from, how things have been since the storm hit, what food they can’t wait to eat first when the power turns back on, and so forth. I even made Esther a promise to bring breakfast and check-in with her the next morning since she really missed her daily dose of “pound cake and coffee…with extra caffeine!” Lucky for me, Whole Foods was open the next morning and I was able to deliver on my promise. Despite the 50-year age difference, I have a new friend right down the street.

Sadly, it took a devastating blow like hurricane Sandy to meet and interact with many of my neighbors. While this was by no means my first time volunteering, it was the first time I’ve seen significant devastation and pain right in my own back yard. It’s a great reminder that regardless of location, pain is pain and suffering is suffering. While our government, corporate companies and local organizations continue to issue calls to fight large global issues, we can all start by volunteering close to home and focus on a few individuals at a time in order to have deep and significant impact. We all must remember the Esther’s out there when watching the morning news and hearing about the horrible things happening on the other side of the world. Simply remember, when you do have a chance to act and help your own neighbors, bring Advil.

Hurricane Sandy and the Homeless Community

Post by  Jamie H. Silverstein, Special Projects Manager, Office of the CEO, Repair the World

Hurricane Sandy was not selective when it came to wreaking havoc on communities. The physical and emotional impact of the storm was felt in wealthy suburban neighborhoods, seaside towns, government-sponsored housing developments, and even colleges and universities. Even as I obsessively monitored the news all week (once my power was restored) there seemed to be one prominent New York City community that was not making the headlines—New York’s homeless population.

The Saturday following Hurricane Sandy, I accompanied 25 Jewish high school students from Temple Sinai of Bergen County (http://www.templesinaibc.org/community/community-youth-program) on their volunteer program with Midnight Run, a 28-year-old organization dedicated to finding common ground between the housed and the homeless.

Even though this event drew a large number of volunteers, a few mentioned that their families were uncomfortable with their participation given the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, especially since many of their homes were still without power or heat. But those individuals believed their help and supplies were needed now more than ever—canceling was not an option. I wholeheartedly agreed.

Many volunteers felt compelled to volunteer regularly because “it is the right thing to do,” while others referenced a human obligation to help those in need. I was particularly impressed by one teen whose passion for serving others stems from Judaism’s commandment to focus on the “here and now” and give to others what they may not be able to give to themselves.

The teens first had dinner with two representatives from the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing, a 20 year old organization that addresses the crisis of homelessness and the shortage of affordable housing through empowerment programs and a network of faith-based advocacy partners. These two formerly homeless women left the teens nearly speechless as they began to realize how very different their lives are from so many people living just a few miles away.

Our first three Midnight Run stations, which normally attract upwards of 20 homeless individuals, were deserted. Our guide went searching for some of the “regulars” but only one or two men visited our bus—a clear sign of Hurricane Sandy’s trail. Members of the homeless community had either relocated uptown or took advantage of one of the many open storm shelters. Oddly, it appeared that many of the city’s homeless were displaced.

In further irony, the last two distribution points we visited around 1:00am were merely four blocks from my office in midtown and proved to be the most popular. During the day, this area is typically buzzing with tourists, commuters, construction sites, food carts, and more. While it was much quieter than usual, the streets began filling with activity once our big yellow school bus showed up. With the infamous Herald Square Macy’s directly behind us, we scrambled to distribute the bagged meals, maintain a constant flow of hot chocolate, and search our clothing bins to find jeans, coats, and warm socks, items in high demand as the temperatures drop.

Hurricane Sandy provided a common ground for the evening’s conversations. Just as we were curious about how one is impacted by a destructive storm when one is already homeless, the homeless community was just as concerned about our safety and the effects of the storm on our families, especially once they heard we were from New Jersey. Sandy’s wrath was just as diverse within the homeless community as it was in other affected areas. Several individuals were not terribly inconvenienced by the storm—it was life as usual. Others explained that because their typical refuge during rain and snow inside the NYC subway system was severely impacted, their main method of transportation and warmth had suddenly vanished.

The two groups also discussed the then upcoming presidential election. Contrary to the teen’s assumptions, many members of the homeless community are registered and planned to cast their vote. In fact, some said the temporary tents in still powerless areas may even help increase homeless community voter turnout.

As we pulled into the temple parking lot around 2am, the teens had mixed emotions. They were disappointed that they did not get to interact with more members of the homeless community, but also very excited that they were able to help many individuals, especially during an increased period of need. A few of the volunteers and homeless had recognized each other from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s soup kitchen, which the teens volunteered at two weeks prior. The unexpected weaving of networks left both the homeless individuals and volunteers surprised and appreciative.

In closing, we also learned that donations and supplies for the homeless community have decreased as a result of the storm. Food pantries that were flooded or without power were forced to throw out their supplies and shipments of blankets and hygiene products are being redirected to disaster relief agencies, understandably so. However, this is leaving organizations that rely on donations regularly with less and less.

It is critical that those who can donate either time or resources continue to supply both much-needed emergency aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy while simultaneously ensuring that ongoing service providers are able to replenish and maintain their programs. These programs may in fact be needed by many of the Sandy victims in the coming weeks and months as we move from recovery to rebuilding. It is our duty as Jews, neighbors, and global citizens to ensure both can be successful.

For more information about the organizations mentioned above or to find out how you can get involved in Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, please visit the following websites:

Repair the World’s Hurricane Sandy Help Now Website: https://www.werepair.org/blog/hurricane-sandy-how-to-help-now/16170 

@repairtheworld

 

Temple Sinai of Bergen County: www.templesinaibc.org  

Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing: www.iahh.org

Midnight Run: www.midnightrun.org

Reflections On Hurricane Sandy and the Human Spirit

The following post by Repair staff member Talya Gillman, originally appeared on Maryland Hillel’s Blog for Change

“Nurses breathe for infants during Sandy hospital evacuation”; an article I read in the midst of Hurricane Sandy’s assault on the east coast.  It described how nurses and medical professionals from the neonatal intensive care unit at a New York City hospital descended nine flights of stairs (the power, and therefore elevators, were out) carrying the babies while simultaneously – and manually – pumping breathing bags that enabled the infants to stay alive while wind and water raged outside.  What a way to be welcomed into the world, the city – and lives – being ravaged by the storm, causing terror and chaos for those in the most affected areas.

And yet: what courage; what kindness; what generosity the nurses enveloped those little humans in.  I like to imagine that those are qualities the nurses breathed into the babies as they made careful journeys down those steps.  I like to think about the choices they made that night (that so many made that night) – to remain at work when they might have been home with their own loved ones, to act boldly in the face of danger in order to support those more vulnerable, and to do what was needed when circumstances were tense and stakes high – and how these choices created the possibility that the infants will grow up to engage with the world in similar ways; in ways characterized by the qualities that saved them.

These images make me think back to the first months of my brothers’ lives. Twins, they were born three and a half months prematurely – extremely sick at birth – and they, too, were cared for by ever-watchful and committed nurses.  Once they came home from the hospital to begin their miracle-lives, my parents began a weekly tradition that many Jewish parents carry out each Shabbat, of reciting the ancient blessing, “May God bless you and keep you. May God shine [God’s] countenance upon you and be gracious unto you, and may God bless you with peace.”

And it occurs to me that as Sandy stormed, the actions of the nurses in New York were an actualization of this blessing.  The nurses were breathing life and the best of humanity, the closest thing to “Godliness”, into the infants.  Regardless of what we each perceive “God” to be or represent, the blessing is about a universal truth; that beyond health, safety and happiness, our lives should also be marked with meaning. And such meaning comes from making certain choices; owning what it means to be human, and responsible. When we act courageously in the face of adversity or injustice, when we commit ourselves to the causes of people marginalized or more vulnerable than ourselves, and when we join in efforts to address the societal needs that visibly and silently surround us, we serve the most essential and meaningful cause there is: one another.

In the aftermath of Sandy’s ruin, young people have dispersed throughout the east coast to “breathe life” into devastation; to breathe comfort into despair.  Through their service, they, too, are carrying out the blessing.  Let us learn from their example, and the examples set by the nurses and hospital workers who cradled the newborns with compassion and care.  Let us commit ourselves to, now and throughout our lives, to acting in the ways those individuals have in the wake of disaster.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said, “The whole world is a very narrow bridge. And the most important thing is not to be afraid.” But I’ve been thinking, and I’ve come to realize that at the end of the day, it’s all right to be afraid.  The most important thing, I believe, is that we help one another across that narrow passageway.

Repair Hero: Rabbi Stephen Roberts on Providing Spiritual Service After 9/11

Rabbi Stephen Roberts is a professional chaplain – the person to turn to in a crisis for support, advice and spiritual counsel. But he’s also a deep believer in service, both within and outside his official job description. So when the New York branch of the American Red Cross wanted to build an interfaith team of chaplains to serve New York City residents after disasters, he jumped at the chance to volunteer and organize.

That group, which coincidentally started their official service about one week before the attacks on September 11th, ended up playing a pivotal role in providing spiritual care and comfort during the country’s darkest days. Rabbi Roberts took the time to speak with Repair the World about his commitment to serving others, his definition of the word “mazel” (luck in Hebrew), and the role we all play in rebuilding and looking forward after a tragedy.

A couple of years before 9/11 you’d started to recruit chaplains for the American Red Cross. What inspired that?
It was really a story about paying it forward. A close friend of mine – really more of a brother – was killed in a plane crash close to 25 years ago. When he died, one of the ways I got through it was because of some amazing spiritual care from a Rabbi. It really made a difference in my life. Many years later I heard that the American Red Cross was putting together a team of chaplains to provide spiritual care after aviation disasters. I believe deeply in service, and wanted to help create a core of colleagues to do this work. About 2 years before 9/11 I began recruiting a diverse group of chaplains in New York from all the faith traditions. We had actually just completed our preparatory work a week before 9/11. We had been working as a group for months – we were ready to knock on doors, we even had an application form for volunteers.

Wow, what incredible timing!
You know, we normally think about the Hebrew word “mazel” as meaning luck, but I think there’s something more to it. If you read the word backwards, the letter “lamed” (L) stands for limmud, or study, the letter “zayin” (Z) stands for zaman or time, and then there’s the letter “mem” (M), which stands for makom, or place. The notion is, if you have put in the “time” and the “study” into preparing for something, when you finally arrive at the “place,” you are ready for it. That’s really what luck is all about.

What types of care did your team of chaplains provide after 9/11?
We basically had to ramp up our efforts much faster and larger than we’d expected. When I showed up to the Red Cross they told me, “Rabbi – you’ve done all this planning…well now you’re live.” I got on the phone and called my team in. I said, “We’re live starting tomorrow morning – if you can show up, then show up.” We began screening volunteers – imams, rabbis, ministers, and buddhist priests, men, women, black, white, hispanic. Our team ended up including 800 volunteers.

In the first few days after 9/11 we served in front of the family assistance centers – the place where people came to report who was missing, or where biological material was brought to make matches. People stood in line for hours trying to determine if their loved ones were alive or not. So our chaplains wandered the lines and made themselves available. Sometimes, the most powerful spiritual care is about being present. Our presence allowed people to let out their shock and make it through those darkest first days.

How did the work change as the days and weeks went on?
A week and a half or so later, when the memorial services began, we had chaplains there. We handed out water and napkins, and through that work people came to us. We were really a ministry of presence. A month after 9/11 we took over at ground zero, providing chaplains 24/7 in the recovery. We created things like a non-denominational prayer for whenever a body part was recovered. That was for the workers and volunteers – they need a sacred moment, and a reminder that the work they were doing, even if it was happening in the most horrible conditions possible, was sacred. We were there for 9 months until they finally closed the site.

What can rabbis, chaplains and community leaders be doing now – 11 years later – to help their congregations and communities move forward while honoring and remembering?
I co-edited a book with Reverend Will Ashley about training clergy to deal with disaster and spiritual care. I recommend that people read that because it talks about how disasters are a given in life, but what’s most important is how well you’re prepared for them. Our job as clergy is to help the community come back to a new beginning after a tragedy, but really anyone can help facilitate that for their community.

Learn more about the American Red Cross’ work around Disaster Relief, and find out how you can get involved.

Repair Hero: Rabbi Simkha Weintraub On Ongoing Healing After 9/11

The days and weeks after 9/11 were a time of chaos, as first responders and teams of dedicated volunteers picked through rubble – looking for survivors and beginning the years-long process of rebuilding. But away from ground zero, in New York City and across the country, those days were also a time of deep sorrow, fear and confusion. A time when people needed to mourn, process and emotionally rebuild.

All over New York City, and across the country too, support groups sprung up in churches, community centers, and people’s homes – all in an effort to provide solace and comfort for mourners, survivors, volunteers, and everyone who was impacted by 9/11. There were groups within the Jewish community too, like the one that Rabbi Simkha Weintraub, a New Yorker and the Rabbinic Director of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (JBFCS) helped create in New York City. Rabbi Weintraub played a critical role in creating opportunities and resources for healing in those first weeks, and facilitated a support group for Jewish people who lost family members in the attack that lasted for an astounding 9 1/2 years.

In this season of reflection, Rabbi Weintraub took some time out to reflect about those first days and weeks after 9/11, the support group’s incredible impact on its members, and a particularly healing trip they took to Israel. We’ve also shared some great opportunities to get involved – with JBFCS and elsewhere – going forward.

What were the days just after 9/11 like for you and the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services?
Once we could get back to our desks, nobody knew how many Jews – or how many people – had died. In the earliest moments, we heard and feared that the number was up to 30,000. We started to keep a list of names of Jewish people we’d heard about passing away, and started reaching out to family members. We developed a database early on of the 240 Jews who died. To do this we reached out to rabbis about people in their congregations. Of course not everyone is affiliated, but we did what we could. We wanted to let them know we were here, and we ended up being the de facto Jewish bereavement and trauma center in New York.

We also started developing resources a month or so after 9/11. There were questions flying in from all over – Jewish educators, rabbis, individuals, and we were getting requests for consultations and trainings. It was so close to the high holidays, and some rabbis were asking – “how do I teach the story of the binding of Isaac this year?” and “For yizkor, how do we add it into the ongoing bereavement?”

Did you do any on the ground work as well?
One synagogue in Lower Manhattan was concerned that everyone in their congregation was going to leave lower Manhattan. The damage was so extensive to people’s homes and the streets – they thought nobody would come home. For Sukkot that year, we did a program about “shelter in the storm,” and organized a sukkah decorating party for that synagogue. In the end, only about 10 people took part – but it was good for that community to be able to say, “we’re here.”

How and when did you decide to launch the support group?
It was intolerable to think of a communal trauma like this, and not try to do something for the Jewish community. We also offered Jewish spiritual counseling one on one. The group didn’t formally start until February or March of 2002. At the first meeting 12 people showed up, and a group of 8-9 regulars formed after that. Within two years, the group solidified as 6 mothers, so it became a group for parents who lost their adult children. We decided to meet formally through the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and now the group continues without official leaders, meeting in each others’ apartments.

How did the group change over the span of 9 1/2 years?
There’s no fixing the problem of losing an adult child, but various things surfaced over the years that the mother’s needed. Early on we had special meetings with the leaders of the Victim’s Compensation Fund, where they guided people about how to think about approaching it. The idea of documenting relationships was incredibly painful and challenging – how, for example, do you put a dollar figure on a husband’s ability to tutor a high school daughter in math?

As time went on, we often talked about politics, and for three years we worked on what became a very large interfaith service on 9/11 with a Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, Catholic and Christian who all lost relatives. Hundreds of people took part in that. As issues came up – like the bombing in Madrid and London – the group reached out to survivors through the internet.

One year on 9/11 the group organized a day of service with an organization called Selfhelp that was founded to help survivors of the Holocaust. The mothers in our group volunteered at a coffee shop on a Sunday morning, setting up and shmoozing with the retirees, many of who were survivors in their 80s or 90s.

Why did you decide to discontinue the formal group after 10 years?
I don’t know of any other group that met for 9 1/2 years – we didn’t just talk about the people we missed personally, we talked about the world. We could’ve continued, but the real question was whether or not the group wanted or need professional facilitators. At first they did, but now it’s very much about mutual support and navigating ongoing issues.

How did leading that group impacted you personally?
I’d like to answer that question with a story. We led a trip to Israel for the group with the purpose of drawing on all the dimensions of Israel that offer healing – nature, spiritual resources, human resources… We spent most of our time with Israeli Jews and Arabs who had lost close ones to violence and terror.

We also worked with a well known art therapist named Tamar Hazut who is very well known for her work helping people survive traumatic loss. She led a workshop called “Black Also Has Many Shades,” where she spread art materials all around the periphery of the room. She had black ribbons, black pipe cleaners, black tape – things like that. After a brief introduction, people are encouraged to make whatever they want and talk about it.

We sat in a circle and I was the fifth person to speak. I had made a tunic out of the black ribbons representing all the people who had torn their clothing in grieving their loved ones. As I talked about it, I remembered that our tradition says the resurrection of the dead will begin in Jerusalem. But there we were in Jerusalem and it wasn’t happening. I started to sob – I had never sobbed like that in the group before. I realized that, although the grieving was obviously very different for me, there was this very big sense of loss. There with that group of people in Israel, it felt okay to grieve, it felt kosher to grieve and I was able to let myself go.

TKTK: get involved

Repair the World Staffer Aaron Miner on National Preparedness Month

September is National Preparedness Month – a month dedicated to educating Americans about preparing for natural disasters, terrorist threats and other emergency situations.

It sounds intimidating, but there’s no need for nail-biting here! Repair the World’s very own Aaron Miner, Director of Volunteer Initiatives (and former staffer at Mayor Bloomberg’s NYC Service initiative), shares some tips for getting prepared for emergency situations (like making a “go bag” or emergency disaster kit to have at the ready), volunteering to help other people in your community do the same, and how to pitch in when a disaster strikes.

What and when is National Preparedness Month? Why is it this particular month?
National Preparedness Month has been observed in the US since 2004. The month was chosen as a reminder of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, and also because September is typically the height of hurricane season. The month is coordinated nationally by FEMA in conjunction with state offices of emergency preparedness and action, as well as major national emergency organizations like the Red Cross. Throughout the month, events are held that inform the public about how to be prepared in case of natural disasters, localized emergencies like fires in people’s homes, and terrorist acts. People are encouraged – and really should – take time in this month to set emergency plans, pack a “go bag” and make sure that they are aware of their office and town’s emergency procedures.

What are the most important things for people to have in their emergency “go bag?”
A “go bag” is essential to have in any type of emergency. Some of the most important items to have in it include: copies of important documents kept in a zipped plastic bag, enough water for each member of a household to drink for three days, non-perishable food with a handheld can opener, snacks like granola bars, nuts, and dried fruit, a first aid kit, hygiene items like soap, a toothbrush, and toothpaste, a flashlight with operating batteries, a whistle, and a battery-operated radio. People should also keep their cell phones charged up in case they have to run for awhile without electricity to recharge them. They should also have blankets and layers of clothes ready depending on the time of year.

You should check your go bag’s preparedness every 6 months. Change the batteries in your smoke and CO2 detectors, and then check to make sure your go bag is in order. You’ll always be prepared if you follow that schedule.

What are some ways that people can volunteer, formally and informally, to help their neighbors prepare for an emergency?
Many cities have their own offices for emergency management and have programming that uses volunteers to help teach the public about emergency awareness. You can hold a go bag kit stuffing party at your school, or with your friends, and deliver them to home-bound seniors. Talk to friends and distribute a “kit 411” to friends via email. Even something as simple as checking on your own family members to make sure that they have what they need can help.

What about volunteering after an emergency or disaster strikes?
Check out organizations like American Red Cross, NECHAMA, and JDRC to assist in emergencies. The National Civility and Community Core often activates their volunteers to help after an emergency.

Where can people find out more?
To learn more, including a list of things happening in your area and tips for preparedness in all types of emergencies, visit ready.gov.

And for more information, check out this short video on being prepared:

Repair Interview: Jamie Etkind on Her Time at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village

Since 2006, Repair the World grantee-partner Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village has provided a community and high school in Rwanda for the young people who were orphaned during and after the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It has also served as an amazing place for service learning.

This past May University of Pennsylvania junior, Jamie Etkind, attended a Hillel-led trip for Jewish, Christian, and Muslim students to ASYV for a 10-day service learning program. The students spent time with Agahozo-Shalom’s villagers, worked in their gardens, school and community, and gained a deeper understanding of the lasting impact the genocide has had on the country. Etkind took the time to tell Repair the World about her once-in-a-lifetime service experience.

What is your background with service and volunteering?
I was raised in a reform Jewish household, participated in mitzvah days when I was younger, and had a service project around my bat mitzvah where I raised money for the Koby Mandell Foundation. In high school I was also the co-founder and president of an organization that raised money for and got students involved as volunteers in hospice work. But I had never been on a service trip, and never really given much explicit thought to how deeply related Judaism and service are.

How did you find out about Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village?
Two of my friends had participated before and came back with rave reviews. They both said, “you have to do this!” I had learned about the Rwandan genocide in high school, but before the trip I never knew what happened there after the genocide. Leading up to the trip, I was incredibly excited. I did a lot of independent research including watching a bunch of documentaries about what the country is like today. I also read the powerful and fact-filled book, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families. In the semester leading up to our trip, our group also read a lot of survivor testimonials and did outreach events, so by the time I left I felt pretty well versed – but I still didn’t have any first hand experience.

What did you do during the trip?
A lot of the trip was focused on forming personal relationships with the students in the village. Every morning we would do a service project, like helping in the garden or kitchen. After the students’ school day, we met up with them and went to their after school clubs and took tours of the village. On Saturday, since the students weren’t in school, we got to work side by side with them in the garden.

Can you share a story or two of the impact the trip had?
One of my favorite interactions was with a student named Pacy, who I first met during a meal. One night when we were walking from dinner – it was pitch black outside in the village, but she knew her way – she told me her life story. She opened up about her family’s history and her ambitions and said, “I’d love to be like Oprah someday.” I said, “Oh, so you can be on television?” And she said, “No, so I can help other girls in positions like me.” That was really powerful – these kids have such a sense of service ingrained in them. It’s part of their daily life – they can’t wait to go to university and come back and be the generation that helps make their country great.

What surprised you most on the trip?
I wasn’t expecting to have so much introspection about my Judaism. As I mentioned, I grew up reform but I’ve been a part of the Maimonides Leaders Fellowship at Penn, and have found a lot of meaning in that. On the trip, there were Jews across the denominations, as well as Christian, Catholic, Mormon, and Muslim students. We would talk a lot about religion, and people would ask me very innocent questions like “Why do you work on Saturday, but the other Jews aren’t?” or “Why are you not keeping kosher but the other Jews do?” I had never been asked those questions by anyone and it led me to the realization that if I don’t do these things, I need a reason why. I’m at a point in my life where it’s not enough to simply say, “I do it because I was raised that way.” So my eyes were opened by these other students.

Did the trip also change your thoughts or perspective about Judaism and service?
Yes, I had really never put the two together before even though I’d experienced them together. I never really thought about service being such a strong pillar of Judaism, but that was something we really explored on the trip and it got me thinking. I had always associated tzedakah as simply giving money, but now I know it’s also about service and so much more.

Learn more about Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village’s work here.