Leading up to the evening of Thursday, April 23, teens from Greater Boston readied themselves for a new kind of Community Action Day. While in years past, Jewish Teen Initiative of Greater Boston (JTI) and Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) have partnered for an in-person day of service on the North Shore, this year, in light of COVID-19 social distancing, we went online.

In preparation for this year’s online event, teen project leaders shared information through social media, highlighting their excitement for supporting North Shore teens in Plummer Youth Promise’s OnPoint Program. During this time, we also ran an online fundraiser, raising $225, which will provide nine North Shore families with grocery store gift cards through Lynn Shelter Association (LSA).

As Kristin Moccia, family case manager and volunteer coordinator of LSA, shared: “With all the challenges our clients face, we’re grateful that this gift helps mitigate food insecurities, giving our families one less thing to worry about. The generosity and support from JTI to our families in shelter is so appreciated by all of us at LSA.”

The day before Virtual Community Action Day was to take place, teen volunteers eagerly received materials to use in their projects, ranging from toiletries, art supplies and blankets to include in care packages, to upcycled T-shirts to create masks. On Thursday evening, 19 teens representing six cities and towns came together to hear from Emily Lonergan, community engagement and events manager with Plummer Youth Promise, and learn about the impact they would be making on the lives of other North Shore teens. Rabbi Marc Baker, president and CEO of CJP, also joined us and reflected on the coincidental nature of experiencing a “plague” during this year’s Omer, mirroring events from nearly 2,000 years ago. Rabbi Baker’s words of encouragement set the tone for a poignant evening.

(Courtesy photo)
(Courtesy photo)

Throughout the program, teens worked diligently in small groups using Zoom breakout rooms, crafting 58 no-sew masks, assembling 25 care packages and writing 20 cards for OnPoint teens. Later in the evening, teens also wrote and decorated 17 more cards for residents at Chelsea Jewish Lifecare in Peabody.

Upon receiving this delivery of well-wishes on Friday, April 24, Ellen Gordon, director of resident life at the facility, remarked: “Your cards have connected residents to the greater community and have given them a sense of participation and purpose for the greater good.  Isolation can be devastating, but when there is a sense that we are all working toward the same purpose, it helps to fill that need to be part of a community repairing the world.”

One teen volunteer, Shira Zimmerman of Peabody, also shared: “I really enjoyed this project, and I thought it was important because one of my family friends is at Chelsea Jewish Lifecare. It was really important to send cards there and make sure they’re all OK.”

While the virtual program looked much different than in years past, teens reflected on the ways they can remain connected through projects such as these.

A participating teen models with her care package (Courtesy photo)
A participating teen models her care package (Courtesy photo)

Elie Siegel of Marblehead shared: “I was part of JTI and CJP’s Community Action Day last year, and it was very interesting to have this new experience not being there in person. In a lot of ways, we still had a lot of the same people, faces and happy determination to help our community. It’s very important to have that motivation to help out, and even when you can’t see each other in real life, we’re still having compassion to be able to reach out.”

As Gayle Rubin, co-chair of the Jewish Teen Initiative Board of Directors, remarked: “I was thrilled the JTI team figured out a way to keep the decade-long tradition of a large-scale spring service day for the North Shore going, even with stay-at-home orders in place. Seeing teens online, working alone and together to help teens and the homeless in need, was as inspiring, if not more so, then previous Community Action Days.”

We were thrilled with the success of Virtual Community Action Day, and grateful to our partners, CJP, BBYO and J-Serve, for supporting this exciting undertaking!

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