This is the second 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, Lexie Sittsamer, an 18-year old high school senior in Detroit, Michigan shares her story. And check out the first J-Serve interview here.
How did you first get involved with service?
I’ve always been very active in my synagogue and community. In 6th grade I began volunteering on a weekly basis with an organization called Friendship Circle, which works with kids and teens who have special needs. I did their program called Torah Circle, where kids participate in different Jewish activities and are paired one on one with a mentor. And in 10th grade I started volunteering with their [email protected] program, where volunteers work with the children in their own homes.
I’ve always been really passionate about helping others, so when I found out about J-Serve I thought it sounded really cool. It stuck out to me that, no matter what synagogue you belong to – or don’t – everyone comes together for a few hours to help strangers.
It sounds like you connect your Jewish tradition with your service?
I have always been a big believer in tikkun olam and giving back. Service was part of our curriculum in Hebrew school, and around our bar and bat mitzvah year – there were special opportunities, like working with the food pantry, to get involved throughout the year. Our Assistant Youth Director even created a program called Teen Volunteer Corps to get us doing different activities to help the community.
How are you involved with J-Serve?
I’m on the international committee for my second year. I’m also on our local committee, but on the international front I’m connected to the Midwest hub. If organizations, synagogues or other groups interested in J-Serve have a question or need help with ideas, they can come to us. We communicate with them and have regular support calls that people call into from all over.
What project is your local J-Serve group doing this year?
We are a little different in Michigan, because we run multiple J-Serve events throughout the year. Last year we held two, and this year we are planning to hold four. For our first J-Serve project on 9/11, we teamed up with a project called Acts of Kindness (or A-OK) Detroit to do interfaith volunteering. In December we teamed up with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit for a mitzvah day on Christmas. The projects included working in soup kitchens, visiting with seniors and visiting homes for people who are fighting cancer.
Then this past February we worked with three different organizations, one called Gleaners, which is a food bank, one called Greening of Detroit, which works to beautify the city, and and one called Detroit Rescue Mission, a shelter that helps disadvantaged men, women and children. The options were diverse, so each person could participate in a way that felt right for them.
What are your goals and hopes for J-Serve’s big day of service in April this year?
My goal is to help the people who participate really get something out of the experience. I want people to be inspired to do service – not because their parents are making them, but because they gain from the experience of coming together as a Jewish community to serve.