* reprinted with permission from the 66th Annual Meeting of the JCRC of Greater Boston, June 12, 2010.
Hi. My name is Hannah Weinronk, and I am a junior at Lexington High School. For the past three years, I have participated in TELEM’s Literacy Track with Teens for Tzedek, run through the Jewish Community Center in Newton. I travel once a week with a group of high-schoolers to the Medford Boys and Girls Club, where I work with the elementary-aged students. When I was a freshman in high school, my older sister Dalya coordinated with TELEM to bring the Literacy track to Lexington High School. I loved reading and I loved kids, so naturally, I joined her.
When I came into the program, I hadn’t had much experience with community service and I thought that I would work miracles. I believed that the kids I read with would become flawless overnight. Over the years, while my expectations have become more realistic, they are in some senses greater. I have learned that while we do help the students with their reading, our influence extends beyond the classroom. We became their role models. All of the kids at the Boys and Girls Club of Medford see us dedicate a few hours out of our week because we believe in the importance of literacy, and in the value of giving back to our community. A few weeks ago, one of the older girls at the Boys and Girls Club came up to us and asked us if she could volunteer as a reading buddy too. It is my hope that all of them, like this girl, are taking these lessons to heart. In this way, we are truly making a difference.
While I expected that my time volunteering with my TELEM Literacy team would help the students, I never expected the immense impact that my experiences have had on my own life. One of the biggest lessons I have learned, both from the students and from my fellow volunteers, is not to form preconceived ideas about people. The kids at the boys and girls club come from diverse backgrounds, ethnically, socially, and economically. While I like to consider myself completely open, everyone makes certain judgments and subconsciously labels people. Looking back, I realize that this was my attitude starting the program. However, when it became too difficult to remember who was living in foster care and who was going on vacation in Florida, I learned that it was difficult for a reason- because there was no difference between them. They were all kids and unique individuals, equally deserving of our attention.
Similarly, I have discovered how mistaken I can be in judging my peers. This past year, I have had a special leadership role in the program, helping to coordinate and recruit other high schoolers to volunteer with the TELEM Literacy team. Many of the volunteers, including myself and my sister Tova, began the program looking to complete community service hours. However, most of them continued long after they fulfilled their high school requirements. I have been surprised at the enthusiasm, openness, and unique perspectives that everyone brings to the program. Like me, they have discovered a passion to give back and to share their resources with others.
Whether or not the kids we work with become expert readers overnight, I truly believe that they take as much away from our interactions as I have. It is inspiring to realize that we, a small group of high school students, can have such an influence on our community when we come together, determined to make a change. This is a lesson I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Hannah Weinronk is a senior at Lexington High School. She has been a member of the JCC Teens for Tzedek Reading Buddies program since her freshman year, and is responsible for all student recruitment and outreach at Lexington High School.