Archive for : volunteer

Volunteering and Young Jewish Adults

There have been constant messages in the media saying that the millennial generation (those of us born between 1980 and the early to late 1990s) care little about our community and are more likely to spend time in front of a computer than interacting with our peers. In fact, these are both wrong statements. Among Jewish young adults, volunteerism and social interactions are strongly linked.

In St. Louis, Jewish Federation has created a collaborative volunteer project designed specifically for young adults. The ‘Karen Solomon Young Adult Service Initiative’ is a collaboration of three Jewish organizations: Next Dor STL, the Jewish young adult community center; the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and Jewish Community Center (JCC). The project will offer an easy-to-join ongoing volunteer opportunity at Gateway 180, a St. Louis homeless shelter. St. Louis philanthropist William (Bill) Solomon worked with the Jewish Community Foundation of St. Louis to create an endowment that funds the project in honor of his late wife Karen, a dedicated community volunteer.

The project is especially compelling after Repair the World published the results of the study conducted by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University and Gerstein-Agne Strategic Communications. The June 2011 report, titled Volunteering +Values: A Repair the World Report of Jewish Young Adults, was commissioned by Repair the World to learn more about volunteer service among Jewish young adults in the United States.

The study found that a majority of the nearly 1,000 respondents had reported volunteer involvement in the 12 months prior to the study. Nearly 40% of these respondents volunteered on an irregular basis of less than once a month. 52% of respondents reported that in a typical week, they do not spend time volunteering. Even so, 29% of the respondents volunteer at least once a month, and 10% volunteer at least once a week.

While most Jewish young adults may not physically be out in their communities volunteering on a regular basis, a majority are involved in “low-threshold activism,” which includes signing petitions, donating money, and buying goods that align with their political and social values. Being involved in our communities at times that are agreeable with our increasingly busy schedules is important, and it is more likely for Jewish young adults to be involved when the level of energy to be engaged is minimal and the activities can be easily incorporated into their regular schedule.

Because Jewish young adults are busy with jobs, social events, professional development, and families, the study reported that we prefer small local change in which we are able to see the results of our work through consistent low-threshold volunteering opportunities, such as the Karen Solomon Young Adult Service Initiative. Recurring events requiring just a small time commitment make it easy for young adults to fit volunteering into their busy schedules by offering a wide variety of activities at varying times. A few hours of service one day each month at an easily accessible site is most appealing to Jewish young adults.

Importantly, projects that give Jewish young adults time to socialize with their peers while pursuing social justice are the most likely to recruit Jewish young adults. The research shows that those Jewish young adults who are not self-motivated to volunteer individually are most likely to get involved when their friends or families encourage them.

The Karen Solomon Young Adult Service Initiative will address the specific and unique interests of Jewish young adults while instilling a sense of community around volunteer activities. The project is slated to kick off in early 2012, with recruitment spearheaded by Next Dor STL.

To get involved, contact Next Dor STL at [email protected] For more information about the Karen Solomon Young Adult Service Initiative, click here.

Jessica Baverman, originally from Atlanta, served as an AmeriCorps VISTA in St. Louis after earning a Master of Social Work with a concentration in nonprofit management from UGA in 2011. She is Vice President of the Board of Next Dor STL, an organization funded in part by Jewish Federation of St. Louis.

Guest commentary: Consider volunteering during the extra day leap year offers

The earth goes around the sun every 365.242199 days. But because of our human predisposition to integers — and our innate need to stay in the good graces of the rest of the solar system — we add a day to the calendar every fourth year.

Time has always been serious business, so much so that papal adjustments to the calendar during the Middle Ages often sparked revolts by people who believed the Church was literally stealing their time.

Thank God we’ve mellowed with time, most of us have become generally content with living in a chronologically logical post-Enlightenment world, and we no longer freak out over fear of temporal larceny.

But perhaps we should have higher expectations for that day every four years when we actually gain some time. The termLeap Year suggests alone that February 29 should be an exceptional day. Why not take this day and use it for something exceptional like volunteering?

Even though February 29, 2012, is buried in the middle of the week, let’s make the most of this astronomical anomaly. I’m not advocating anything monumental like a global work stoppage or an international pillow fight, but we should at least try to answer the question: How will I leap this year?

Leap Day could be the do-over after New Year’s — a chance to look back and look forward and to make resolutions free from the influence of alcohol and dropping balls.

I’ve spent the better part of my professional adult life mobilizing and coordinating volunteers, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for all the Ts in Tim Tebow. Volunteerism can transcend time and space and class and race to change for the better both our communities and ourselves.

But most often volunteering illuminates a different common denominator among people — that the majority of us don’t do it.

That’s not intended as a harsh criticism. Most of us have a drive to serve and see the needs that surround us. It’s just difficult to turn rhetoric into reality, aspirations into action, and values into value. Time is serious business, and it often gets in the way.

Most of us already don’t spend as much time as we should sleeping or chewing our food, so we have to make the time for the things that are truly important.

This year, though, we get that gift of the extra day. So, on February 29 (Can we call it “Solar Compliance Day?”), let’s put aside our jealousy of all the babies born that day who will age four times slower than the general population. And let’s resolve to better allocate our most scarce and precious resource.

This may sound like a very adult thing to do, but I’m actually taking a page from the book of my new friend Maya, a precocious kindergartner at the Dixon School in Detroit.

Like me, Maya loves to read and has trouble sitting still. She gets especially restless when she finds herself pages ahead of her classmates — when she has already said good night to the moon while her 32 classmates are still sitting in chairs with three little bears.

I met Maya through a Repair the World literacy program, which pairs volunteers with kids who need a little extra attention in the classroom. But in reality, Maya has graciously volunteered to expend some of her extra energy by reading to me for a morning a week. She may not realize it, but her service is sharing childhood of brightening the otherwise dreary day of an adult.

Last week, Maya and I got to spend the better part of an hour reading together in the morning. We went at our own pace, seeing Spot run at a sprint and then pausing to be curious with George.

And by the time I got to my office and had to face the little hiccups that inevitably fill grownup afternoons, I felt more inclined to make way for ducklings than snarl with a Grinchly sneer.

I have a hunch the same was true for Maya.

I’m willing to bet that if we all took some time on Leap Day (and beyond) to work with others, we’d find that spending it trying to solve problems other than our own will make the traffic seem just a little less jammed and the birds seem a little less angry.

Or who knows? If we all leap at once, we might just change the rotation of the earth.

Ben Falik is the manager of Detroit Service Initiatives for Repair the world, the national service arm of the Jewish community. Learn more about Repair at or on Twitter @repairtheworld.

Shabbat Service: Bring Freedom to All

Shabbat Service is a weekly bit of Torah-inspired do-gooding, brought to you by Repair the World and our grantee-partner American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Read on to see how these ancient stories can apply today. Seem far fetched? Check it out:

The story: In this week’s parsha (Torah portion), Bo, we flash forward a couple of months to Passover by learning about Chag haMatzot a.k.a the Festival of Unleavened Bread. We also learn the difference between matzo – the thin, cracker-like “bread of oppression” vs. its seeming opposite, chametz, which you might call the “bread of freedom.” (Because only free people have the time to let bread rise, let alone bake it until it forms a nice chewy crust.)

The takeaway: All this talk about matzo and chametz in the parsha brings up questions about the meaning of freedom. When you get down to it, there are actually two types of freedom: There’s freedom “from” things – mostly bad stuff, like oppression and slavery. But there’s also freedom “to” things – like the freedom to make our own decisions, and the freedom to create new realities. By accepting our freedom, we meanwhile accept a type of responsibility to ourselves and to others. In other words, “our newfound freedom [obligates] us to bring about the same transformation for others in our world.” It obligates us to “be the change,” as Gandhi famously put it, and to help others find their own freedom.

The “to-do”: There are still three months until Passover’s week-long matzo-fest begins (whew!). In the meantime, why not get a jump start on embracing your freedom, by helping ensure it for others. Volunteer with or support human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, Youth for Human Rights, or Rabbis for Human Rights North America.

Read the full Torah commentary, on which this excerpt is based, over at AJWS’ website.

8 Nights of Service: Volunteer The Day After Christmas

Welcome to Repair the World’s 8 Nights of Service: awesome volunteer projects, donation opportunities and tikkun olam ideas to bring service to the center of your Hanukkah celebration!

In America, being Jewish on Christmas has come to mean a few things – namely catching up on the latest movies and eating lots of delicious Chinese food. (You can find out why here.)

Many Jewish families also spend Christmas day volunteering at nearby shelters and soup kitchens. Along with Thanksgiving, Christmas is one of the busiest volunteer days of the year – some charities even have to turn away well-meaning volunteers, because they simply have too much help. The day (and weeks) after Christmas are a different story. With work beginning again for some, and families heading off on winter break vacations, many charities have trouble recruiting help throughout the month January.

Volunteering to help others on Christmas is a fabulous way to spend a day off, but the need for help remains beyond the holiday. This Hanukkah, bring the holiday volunteering spirit with you into the rest of the year. Here are a few resources to get you started:

Find a shelter.

    The National Coalition for the Homeless offers ideas and resources to help plug into volunteer opportunities, and links to a few national databases so you can locate a shelter nearby.

Find a soup kitchen.

    Feeding America, an anti-hunger organization lets you search by zip code to find a soup kitchen near you.

Donate to Mazon,

    The Jewish response to hunger. Don’t have the time to volunteer in person? Your donated funds to Mazon go to help organizations working on the ground to combat hunger.

How are you planning to bring the spirit of service into the New Year? Let us know by tweeting @repairtheworld and #8Nights

On Thanksgiving, Share Your Gratitude By Giving Back

Polish your gravy boats and slip into your eating pants, people – Thanksgiving is almost here. It’s the holiday devoted to lots: of traffic, of eating, of time with family, and of being grateful for everything we have. (hmmm … didn’t we just do this in October?)

Thanksgiving is also dedicated to those without lots.  Every year, millions of people across the country take time out of their holiday festivities to give back through volunteering. And we can think of no better way to celebrate a day of gratefulness than by helping others. After the annual touch-football game is over, why not take advantage of the holiday spirit by participating in one of the service opportunities below.

Too busy prepping the turkey (or tofurkey), whipping the mashed potatoes or just gobbling it up? Fret not. People need help all year round! So prep away, and bring the Thanksgiving spirit into the rest of the year!

  • Bake or Buy Pie. Across the country, expert and novel bakers-alike are banding together to bake pies to raise money for charity – like this Pie in the Sky event in Massachusetts or these pie events across the country. As if pumpkin and pecan pie could get any sweeter!
  • Race. Sign up for a Thanksgiving Day run that helps raise awareness or money (or both) for a good cause, like the Run for Food race in California.
  • Deliver meals to older and housebound residents with Meals on Wheels. Your visit will bring them much more than food.
  • Visit residents at a local senior center for VA hospital. Many of these organizations throw Thanksgiving dinners or parties for their residents, like this one in New York City, and need extra help and extra friendly faces.
  • Serve (literally) by volunteering at a local soup kitchen, which provides free, hot meals on Thanksgiving (and the rest of the year) to people in need.
  • Donate. If you don’t have time to volunteer in-person on Thanksgiving, donating to a favorite charity is a great way to give back.

What did we miss? What did you do? Feel free to share other local and national volunteer opportunities in the comments below.

Groundwork Somerville and Tufts volunteers clean forgotten spaces in Somerville

On Friday, September 23, Groundwork Somerville engaged Tufts University Volunteers in an effort to clean up Somerville in our second annual Green-a-thon.  Students volunteering through “Repair the World Service Day” met Groundwork Somerville representatives at two sites in the city that have been flagged “dirty” by community members.  The event was made possible thanks to the support of Apex Green Roofs,, and Somerville’s Department of Public Works.

In planning the event, Groundwork Somerville was pleased to discover how hard it was to find a truly dirty plot of land in the city.  Thanks to the hard work of employees of the Department of Public Works, Somerville’s parks and streets are cleaned very regularly and do not seem to accumulate trash.  The sites in the city that need clean-up assistance are the vacant and unclaimed spaces.

One team diligently picked up trash in a vacant lot adjacent to the Healey School and near Groundwork Somerville’s Healey School Garden.   Upon completion of this task, they moved across the black top to pick up trash and remove invasive Japanese Knotweed from the sloped area between the school and Mystic housing development. The second team worked hard to clean the steep wet forested slope behind the Somerville High School and the Commuter Rail tracks.  Within two hours, 18 bags of trash, 10 bags of recycling, and 4 yard waste bags were filled!  Groundwork Somerville would like to thank Apex Green Roofs,, Somerville’s Department of Public Works, the Alpha Phi Sorrority, Groundwork Somerville’s National Park Preservers, and Repair the World Service Day for making this Green-a-thon possible.