This is the fifth in a series of interviews featuring a handful of the nearly 10,000 awesome teens who are involved with J-Serve – the International Day of Jewish Youth Service coming up on April 22. Below, Ryan Ladd, a 17-year old high school junior in Austin, Texas shares his story. (And check out the first, second, third and fourth J-Serve interviews.)
Can you tell me more about your background with service?
For as far back as I can remember, any service I did was with the Jewish community. My first real introduction was doing service with other teens from my synagogue, and planning a community service project for my bar mitzvah. That experience was particularly eye opening because I got to see community service and leadership blended together. My project was focused on philanthropy, and I threw a benefit concert at a country club to raise money for the Make a Wish Foundation. I invited lots of people, my friend’s band played, and we had raffles with prizes donated from local stores. The event ended up raising more than $3,000.
And how did you find out about J-Serve?
I joined BBYO as a freshman in high school and heard about J-Serve through that. I attended the day of service that year and remember thinking, “Okay cool, Jewish community service – this is what I like to do.” I applied my sophomore year to be on the local project task force, which plans the big J-Serve event as well as other, smaller community service events throughout the year. I’ve been on it for two years now.
Why do you think Jewish community service in particular feels like such a good fit for you?
Growing up, I didn’t have a large connection to Jewish community, and my high school is predominately Christian. Doing service with Jews offers a chance to be with some of my friends that I don’t get to see very often. I’ve always felt that it was more meaningful to do service with other Jewish teens, and felt more connected that way. I also was exposed to ideas like tikkun olam – things that I’d heard before but had flown over my head. But learning about them more deeply interested me, and has drawn me in.
Tell me more about some of the service projects your task force has planned.
We meet twice a month to plan year-round community service projects like visiting people at the Ronald McDonald House or other local charities. Last year we volunteered with kids at the Helping Hand Home for Children in Austin. The point of these smaller programs is to reach out to the wider community and help raise awareness about J-Serve.
And what are you doing for your J-Serve program this year?
We had our J-Serve program early, on April 1st. We had four different projects that participants could choose from. One was working to restore some grounds that were damaged by wildfire – we laid out tarps and helped to beautify the area. Another was working with an organization called Austin Pets Alive making care packages for animals without homes. Another group worked on a beautification project at Candlelight Ranch, and the final group partnered with a water safety organization called Colin’s Hope. They led a flash mob at City Hall to raise awareness around water safety.
What is the most meaningful thing about J-Serve for you?
It’s cool to think about J-Serve being an international event, but what makes the most impact for me is seeing the local, tangible difference I can make. Having someone we helped call in tears to say thank you for your work, you realize just what a difference you can make. I don’t just do service work for my college resume, I do it because I really care. J-Serve has given me a really nice outlet to spread that love of service to Jewish teens around Austin.