By Rachel Bukowitz
Repair the World Atlanta Site Development Fellow 2018-19, Pittsburgh Fellow 2017-18
After spending August 2017 through July 2018 as a Food Justice Fellow with Repair the World (Repair) in Pittsburgh, where I served on a team with five other Fellows and consistently volunteered with three nonprofit service partners, I packed up my car and drove down to Atlanta to embark on my second year with Repair, this time as a Site Development Fellow. Over the last 12 months, I was the only Fellow in Atlanta, and had a different mandate with regularly scheduled volunteering. My year was devoted to working with Lily Brent, Director of Atlanta Repair, to launch Repair’s eighth “community”– a local site for Repair’s mission to make volunteer service a defining part of a American Jewish life.
As I reflect on when I first moved to Atlanta to start this new endeavor, I recognize that my site development experience with Repair far surpassed my initial expectations. From cooking alongside local chefs at shelters in Atlanta to serving meals for people experiencing homelessness, to meeting with donors and securing funding from grocery stores for meal preparation, from going into a prison to sign up incarcerated men for birth certificates, to talking to my state senator at the Capitol about ending cash bail, the spectrum of my experiences fundamentally transformed me. This year provided me with the opportunity to hear stories and learn from people directly impacted by inequities across education systems, housing affordability, food access and criminal justice. Furthermore, it made me think critically about how to use my privilege to support excellent social justice work and be an advocate for change. From all of the diverse roles and responsibilities I had this past year, I have come away with three key learnings that I outlined below:
- Say “yes” to new opportunities. Committing to being the Site Development Fellow for Atlanta was a big “yes” moment for me in and of itself. I moved to a new state, to a city I had never been to before and knew no one in, and started a new job with a new boss whom I had never met in person. But accepting the role was just the beginning of the “yes-ing”. Once in Atlanta, one of my main goals was to build Repair’s brand and “get our name out there” by taking advantage of every opportunity to tell people what Repair is, what we do, and how they could get involved in our work. I criss-crossed the city attending 80 community-based events, volunteering with 32 nonprofits, tabling at events, co-sponsoring film screenings, speaking on panels, running workshops, hosting volunteer days, you name it! During this 2018-9 program year, Lily and I ran 42 programs! I dove into my new city attending public events that sounded interesting to me and volunteering for organizations working on causes I care about – which guaranteed that I would be far too busy to be bored or lonely, feelings that can come easy moving somewhere new. Each and every volunteer program and community event that I went to pushed me to embrace new experiences and led to me meet fascinating people, which leads into my next learning…
- You can learn something from everyone. Although we spent a lot of time and effort facilitating large-scale events, building our network also meant sticking true to Repair’s core model of meeting people one-on-one in the community. One standout meeting for me was with someone who was at that time a stranger, but is now my good friend, Gabe. As a newbie in Atlanta, Gabe provided me with incredible insight into Atlanta’s Jewish community and the city at large. He introduced me to the city’s food forest, an incredible urban agriculture space that I have since repeatedly volunteered at and brought over 40 Repair volunteers to on various occasions. Gabe also introduced me to a network of other values-driven young adults in the city that I am now lucky enough to have as friends. For all that Gabe shared with me, I too shared with him about Repair’s great work across the country and what we were up to Atlanta. A month after Gabe and I met, Lily and I co-hosted our first Repair event with Historic Westside Gardens. Gabe came to the event (and brought friends!) to volunteer. In the months that followed, Gabe continued to stay involved by hosting one of our MLK Shabbat Suppers and volunteering at our bi-weekly gardening group. Excitingly, in the coming year Gabe will be continuing his journey with Repair as a Fellow in Miami! Although not everyone I met with will end up becoming Repair Fellows, I can say that everyone I met with learned about Repair, and I in turn learned more than I could possibly list here from each and every person I met. I want to thank all of the community activists, local leaders and dedicated volunteers that I got to know this year– meeting this community was without a doubt the best part of my year.
- Express gratitude. Being a Site Development Fellow was a lot of hard work, and although there were days when my to-do list felt out of control, my efforts were always acknowledged and appreciated. In fact, I received an abundance of thank you’s (in person, over email, by text, and even hand written notes), and in return, I want to send my sincerest thanks to all of my colleagues at Repair the World. I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with such a supportive group of people that celebrate each other’s accomplishments and promote skill-building, divergent thinking, professional development, and empathetic and equitable approaches to work. I can’t thank you all enough for everything I have learned; for teaching me how to launch a social media brand and training me on inclusive marketing, thank you. For showing me how to manage a database and run reports to track metrics towards our goals, thank you. For taking me to the edge of my productive discomfort by creating space for learning about racial justice, pluralism, and intersectionality, thank you. For providing a platform for me to express my own Jewish identity through service and solidarity, thank you. And for inspiring me each day as awesome mentors and femtors (looking at you, Lily and Kate!), thank you, thank you, thank you. All that I have learned here I will take with me to graduate school and beyond, as I do my part in repairing the world.