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Archive for : volunteering

Playworks: Lessons in Play

Great article about one of our partners in Philadelphia! We love working with Playworks, learn more about their work in this article!


National Volunteer Month: Pro Bono Volunteering

Happy National Volunteer Month! All April long, Repair the World will be sharing stories, fun opportunities and tips to help you serve at all different levels and in all different ways. We’ll also highlight great causes to get involved with. Check out today’s feature, and tweet your service tips and stories to @repairtheworld #NVM.

All volunteering takes skill and energy. But beyond signing up to staff a soup kitchen for one evening, spending the afternoon at an animal shelter, or organizing a book drive, another type of service helps make a big difference by using our skills and talents: pro bono volunteering.

According to, pro bono volunteering refers to people “volunteering their professional skills to assist nonprofit organizations in creating or improving their business practices.” Examples of pro bono volunteering include a lawyer who advises on cases for a non-profit organization, free of charge, a doctor who volunteers abroad, or a social media whiz who helps a community group spread their message. More and more organizations are beginning to rely on pro bono help. With resources and budgets shrinking all the time, this free, skilled labor becomes increasingly necessary to help organizations meet their goals and change the world.

Sure it helps to have a specific degree or lots of professional experience in the field you’re offering to volunteer in, but almost anyone can be a pro bono volunteer. Idealist suggests considering the following questions:

What are you good at?
What comes easy for you?
What aspects of your professional life might be assets to an organization or community effort?
What personal or interpersonal talents do you have?

Once you have these questions figured out, you can find an organization that is looking for someone with exactly these skills. Put your expertise to use! Find a pro bono volunteering opportunity via Taproot, Idealist, or Catchafire.

Already a pro bono volunteer? Let us know how you serve by tweeting @repairtheworld #NationalVolunteerMonth.

Acting on Empathy

Beyond a few days without power, I experienced Sandy’s inconveniences only minimally, leading me to feel a mixture of gratitude and guilt. My guilt came mostly from empathy, and with flooding all over the city, it wasn’t difficult to imagine myself wearing someone else’s soggy shoes. Empathy aside, my mixed emotions made my desire to act feel almost self-serving, like a mea culpa for a life lived in Zone C. My separation from the affected areas, and simultaneous compulsion to go to them, forced me to realize just how isolated I was from the bulk of the city I call home. I felt privileged, and guiltier.

Because of my lack of knowledge about the areas most devastated by the storm, I felt that it would be arrogant to organize a disaster relief effort without seeing what was happening on the ground. I signed up to volunteer in one of the few places I could get to without a car: Red Hook, Brooklyn. After arriving at a staging location and being sent off to unload a badly flooded warehouse, my inability to lift my own bodyweight made the task impossible. After picking up tiny scraps of trash while twenty-foot stacks of ruined food and paper remained untouched, I left and joined my colleague nearby at The Farm, an incredible community garden that had been totaled by the storm. I sat side by side with locals who still had no power, and with volunteers came in from all over the city, compelled to do something beyond obsessively watching the news.

We rinsed out ruined trays of seedlings and broke open hundreds of cloves of garlic to replant anew. Hearing the incredible stories of displacement and determination of the volunteers made me feel more connected to my fellow New Yorkers than I had been in a long time. Like many of the other staffers who post here, I was just glad to be of use. It gave me hope to see such a robust effort towards new beginnings, both for the community and for its fauna. But I was also sad that it had taken a hurricane to make me realize my obligation to our great metropolis.

What makes New York so great isn’t the sum of our parts. Nor is it the parts; we are still made up of strong families and buildings and blocks like everywhere else. What makes our city so great is a deep, unshakable desire to associate with a common set of values. These include resilience (proven by generations of immigrants), valor in ways big and small, and a determination to accept (and even celebrate!) our differences. I am grateful to my community for rebuilding, and for choosing to do it together – one clove at a time.

The Soul of Service: The new Repair the World-Moishe House in Detroit aims to build a community of volunteerism

Devon RubensteinI should be long gone from Michigan by now. Like most New Yorkers who move here to attend school in Ann Arbor, I had no intention of staying.

Still, after graduating last December, I couldn’t bring myself to leave. First, I chalked it up to not wanting my college experience to end and not wanting to leave my friends, my house and, of course, Michigan athletics. But as I watched most of my friends and classmates pick up and move, I realized it was more than that. Michigan had become a part of me.

That’s why I’ll spend the next year of my life immersed in helping the heart of Michigan — Detroit — and joining one of the Jewish world’s most innovative new ventures: a residence dedicated to building a community of volunteerism.
This past week, I moved, along with three other 20-somethings, into a Repair the World-Moishe House in the Woodbridge area in Detroit. We didn’t know each other much beforehand, but we share a common desire to make a difference in the world.

The idea is simple, really: We want to build a center for volunteerism for other young Jews like ourselves. That’s why we will be inviting anyone we know — and anyone they might know — to join us for both social and service-related events and activities.

The House is an amazing chance for us to put into practice our ideas about helping others and activism, and to build something concrete around what for many our age may seem like a nice — but abstract — idea.

Devon in front of Repair the World-Moishe HouseI got to understand the power of volunteerism when I was 16. I met Rodney, an 8-year-old boy who had recently lost both of his parents, and I had the honor of mentoring him through the Salvation Army Daycare in Hempstead, N.Y.

Since then, volunteerism has been a constant for me, whether it’s working with preschoolers at Head Start in Ann Arbor or setting up window displays at the Ten Thousand Villages in Austin, Texas.

In college, I learned about Detroit from textbooks and the news. Academically, I understood the city’s ups and downs. But it wasn’t until I took the last elective I needed for my public policy degree that I really embraced Detroit for all these ups and downs and started to connect my past volunteerism with a new passion. I realized that I wanted to help Detroit.

As I learned about incredible service opportunities here, for the first time I saw a career in helping others. I realized that if I really want to follow my heart and actually make a difference, this is the place to be.

This Repair the World-Moishe House project is designed for people like me.
My new friends and I, the residents of the Repair-Moishe House, will each have full-time day jobs. And in our spare time, we’ll work to encourage others our age to volunteer to help Detroit.

I’ll be working with underprivileged communities through AmeriCorps VISTA; Brad Snider will continue his urban development work in Mexicantown; Rachel Klegon will continue to run the nonprofit Green Living Science; and Josh Kantor will work with NEXTGen engagement at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

(In the coming months, they’ll each share with you in these pages more about their initiatives, thoughts and experiences. And, of course, we’ll give you updates about how the house is progressing.)

We spent most of the summer searching for a four-bedroom house in a neighborhood that is both accessible to young people and that would provide a solid home base for service projects.

After weeks of dead ends, we found the perfect house in the perfect location at 4446 Commonwealth St. in Woodbridge.  I can count the number of times I’ve been to Woodbridge on one hand. But it’s exactly what we wanted — a diverse and dynamic community anchored by organizations like the Woodbridge Neighborhood Development Corporation and Woodbridge Community Youth Center (WCYC), with which we will work closely.

We’re not sure exactly what all of our service projects will look like down the road, or what projects, programs and partnerships will fill our Repair-Moishe House.But we are starting close to home with our first volunteer event: Painting the batting-cage room in the WCYC to make it resemble a baseball stadium.
From there, we hope to create sustainable partnerships with other groups both in Woodbridge and broader Detroit to make a positive difference here.

I’m excited, and I embrace our House’s mission to mobilize Jewish young adults toward service in Detroit. Because, while I may still have a slight New York accent, and I’ll probably always say “soda” instead of “pop,” there is something about this place — its rich history and tremendous potential — that makes me proud to now call it home.

Devon Rubenstein works with underprivileged communities through AmeriCorps VISTA and is a resident of the new Repair the World- Moishe House in the Woodbridge area in Detroit.

The Social Action Network

Earlier this year, the JCC of Central New Jersey in Scotch Plains converted its teen lounge into an art studio for its camp. The teens just weren’t using it, and the space “has not really been missed,” according to Lindsay Napchen, JCC teen services director.

“I think the days when teens came to the lounge to ‘hang out’ for the night are gone,” she said. “Teens are much more driven toward service-based programming.” In fact, 40-50 teens gather monthly at the JCC as part of the Teen Action Service Corps for discussion and programs — and to perform 30-40 hours per year of community service.

Meanwhile, on July 15, over 40 people — many of them teens — showed up at the Jewish Relief Agency, based at the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, and in 15 minutes had packed and loaded 50 boxes of food and were heading out to deliver them to the needy throughout Morris and Essex counties.

“It feels good to help,” said Aaron Nessel of Randolph, a student at Golda Och Academy in West Orange who’s been volunteering with JRA since the fall. “There are a lot of people in need out here. The fact that we get to do it hands-on and actually deliver food to them makes it feel more rewarding.”

And at the Super Sunday event held on the Aidekman campus in Whippany last December, more than 150 teens and college students from different organizations turned out to make calls to potential donors, yielding more gifts completed by teens in the fund-raiser’s history.

Jewish programs all across the area are adapting to the changing tastes of today’s teens. Chief among these are activities that fall under the rubric of Jewish service learning, in an earlier time, known simply as volunteering. Today, it has morphed into a model incorporating hands-on work, learning, and reflection. Participants study Jewish texts to understand the Jewish values at the heart of a particular mitzva. After performing it, they explore together the impact it has had on them and their communities.

While some teen-focused programs are replacing a combination of formal learning and pure “hanging out” with social action, others are holding on to what they have and adding service learning programs to their schedules. The trend is finding its way into obvious places like religious schools and JCCs, but even into summer camp programs; Young Judaea’s teen leadership camp, Tel Yehuda, is offering an alternative summer break program this year for the first time, modeled on the alternative winter break of volunteer service.

‘Strengthening identity’

“This is a very idealistic generation,” said Jon Rosenberg, CEO of Repair the World, a national organization dedicated to youth service based in Jewish values. According to the Montclair resident, there’s a significant effort on the part of teens nationally to be involved in service and social action. Although the figures vary from state to state, he said, from 2008 to 2010, on average 25 percent of teens were volunteering; in New Jersey, 26.7 percent. Although the studies focus on all teens, not just Jewish teens, Rosenberg said he believes Jewish teens’ rates of volunteering is reflected in the whole. The numbers, he said, suggest an urgency for Jewish educators. “If we are not creating opportunities for them to be do-gooders in the Jewish world, they will do it elsewhere. That would be a missed opportunity.”

Stacey David, education director at the Summit Jewish Community Center, a Conservative synagogue, said its teen program has evolved from a discussion-based group to a service learning model. “My number one goal is to keep kids involved beyond b’nei mitzva,” she said. The program includes mini-courses of three-four sessions each, during which students explore Jewish topics in tikun olam, including environment, poverty, genocide, domestic violence, Israel, human trafficking, and the elderly. That is followed by such hands-on activities as visiting residents of a local nursing center, establishing a recycling program at the synagogue, working with organizations helping the homeless, sending gifts and cards to Israeli soldiers, and advocating for Israel. “Social action is very ‘in’ right now,” said David. “It has deep roots in Jewish values, and if that is the way I can keep kids strengthening their Jewish identity and involved in the Jewish community — then that’s how I will do it.”

A similar model has been implemented for 11th- and 12th-graders at Temple Beth Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Livingston. There, students choose the focus and Rabbi Dan Dorsch, who runs the program, brings the text. Last year, they focused on hunger, studying Jewish texts, and then volunteering at two food banks.

According to Rosenberg, this model of teens having a voice in the design of the program is the next wave. “It helps to cultivate teen leadership. We are going to be seeing more of this in the next five years.”

Robert Lichtman, director of the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, an agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest based on the Aidekman campus, saw this trend emerging several years ago. He hired a full-time Jewish service learning coordinator — a first for an organization not entirely devoted to service learning. He views social action as “a new direction” for teen programming. “When the Partnership was created six years ago, one of the key things that sparked its creation was engaging teens. And community service clearly engages them. Our job is to make it holy — to make it Jewish, to put it in a Jewish context.”

The numbers speak for themselves. Whereas the Partnership’s straightforward learning programs attracts 120-150 kids a year, one-day community volunteer programs like JServe can attract 300-400 teens. Even in the summer, Mitzvah Mania, a two-week program in August offering a different community service project every day, is expected to attract a few dozen teens. Numbers have jumped this summer from the past few years, when there were five-seven teens participating in each project.

The “more is better” approach has been adopted at several religious schools, including Congregation Beth El in South Orange and Shomrei Emunah in Montclair. While Beth El offers a choice of three separate options (service learning, discussion-based programming, and leadership training through serving as a classroom assistant), Shomrei Emunah offers a single option that changes from session to session (one night might be social action, the next pizza with the rabbi, the third a discussion). “I believe that a multifaceted approach to teen engagement is necessary to reach Jewish teens at different places on their Jewish journeys,” said Sherri Morris, director of education at Beth El.

‘Deepen the impact’

While many local education professionals place the explosion of interest in social action and Jewish service learning at anywhere from three to seven years ago, Rosenberg said teen volunteering actually began rising much earlier — in the early 1990s.

Some see the trend as driven by high school community service requirements, the pressure of college applications, and teens’ highly structured lives.

Rabbi Shmuel Greene, director of teen initiatives at the Partnership, explained, “Teens are more and more programmed. They have no free time for hanging out. Everything they do is very thought out, and it’s always about getting into college.”

Napchen, from the Central JCC, added, “There is a ton of pressure and competition for high school students approaching the college application process. With such packed schedules, teens need to pick and choose where they can focus their involvement. They feel like their time is better spent with a program that can help with the application process.”

Lichtman points to a confluence of factors, including parental influence, general media messages stressing the importance of global awareness and “giving back,” and current educational practices. For Reform Jews especially, tikun olam — literally, repairing the world — is at the center of the movement’s philosophy and programming. “If you had to come up with a tagline for the Reform movement today, it would be tikun olam,” Lichtman said. And educationally, many religious schools and secular schools have embraced the experiential education model over strict frontal learning. As Rosenberg put it, “Service learning is a form of experiential education that marries idealism and a desire to make a change with effective models of Jewish learning. When programs are well designed they really deepen the impact of the action.”

The result? “Jewish educators are putting the pieces together. And that’s why Jewish service learning has become so important,” said Lichtman.

At Temple B’nai Jeshurun, a Reform congregation in Short Hills, all the students from kindergarten through 12th grade undertake social action projects mixed with formal learning. “From a practical perspective, it’s nice to do and it looks good when it comes to getting into college; I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a component,” said TBJ youth educator Sarah Silversten.

But, when it comes to the younger children, there is no such motivation. “Kids want to volunteer. It speaks to them. It resonates with them.

“If you ask kids what being Jewish means, I highly doubt they will say they are developing a relationship with God,” said Silversten. “But doing tikun olam speaks to the values of Judaism they understand.”

‘A safe haven’

Of course, not everyone has turned to Jewish service learning and social action as a panacea for the seeming problem of youth engagement. At Adath Shalom in Morris Plains, one example of many, social programming still seems to offer what teens are looking for. The Conservative synagogue has one of the most successful United Synagogue Youth chapters in the area. “They really like the organized youth group,” said Marla Katz, head of youth programming. “We tried social action, but it didn’t work. The first year we had maybe eight kids, the second we were down to two.”

But, Katz said, 50 kids attend a typical USY social event (to be fair, USY does include a social action component). The one thing her kids have in common with everyone else? “They do not want to be in a classroom even if the educators and the classes are cool and sexy,” she said.

Back at the Scotch Plains JCC, an agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, Napchen is still amazed at the numbers of teens drawn to her program. Although the youth lounge is gone, she can get 50 kids applying for the teen leadership program, 30 kids helping out at Super Sunday, and 20 volunteering at “Family Fun Fest,” an annual spring fund-raiser.

“I’ve never had such a large concentrated level of participation among high school students,” Napchen said. “I’ve tried running purely social programs and events, and have found that my participation has been greater when offering community service hours for the programs.”

She does look for opportunities to offer the social and relaxation time she feels young people so desperately need. “I want them to enjoy their time spent in the JCC with their JCC friends. One of my favorite moments was during Come ALIVE in the Community — our huge teen community service event in April — when I stumbled across a group of 15 or so teens sitting together in the corner of a hallway laughing together after they had finished their project.

“I didn’t mind that they weren’t doing something productive because they were together, in the JCC, having fun with each other. To me, that was a success.”


Teen service

FOR MORE INFORMATION about teen service learning opportunities, contact:

• Your local synagogue

• Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life: Leah Weiss, Jewish service learning coordinator, 973-929-2966 or [email protected] (

• Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ: 973-929-3000 (Whippany) or 908-889-5335 (Scotch Plains) (

• JCC MetroWest: teen program department, 973-530-3400 (

• JCC of Central New Jersey: Lindsay Napchen, youth and teen services director, 908-889-8800, ext. 203, or [email protected] (

• YM-YWHA of Union County: Jeff Schultz at 908-289-8112, ext. 28, or [email protected] (

• Repair the World: 646-695-2700 (