More than 85 teenagers from across the North Shore joined forces on a recent Sunday to paint, plant, build and cook at the Lynn Shelter Association.

“It feels good to help homeless families right here on the North Shore because they don’t live too far from us and we are fortunate enough to be able to afford a home and other necessities, like food, but many of these people cannot,” said Mason Quintero, 17, of Marblehead. Quintero helped organize landscaping at the Lynn Shelter Association campus.

Boys gardening

The annual day of service, called J-Serve, was organized by Jewish Teen Initiative (formerly North Shore Teen Initiative), a Marblehead-based non-profit. In addition to the teens, more than 25 adults also came out to help.

“This was our most incredible J-Serve yet,” said Jewish Teen Initiative Director Adam Smith. “Our volunteers were excited and motivated and they did a huge amount of work.”

The teens built raised beds for vegetable gardens and filled them, in partnership with The Food Project. They also constructed and installed shelving, built picnic tables, landscaped the parking lot perimeter with more than 50 plants and trees, painted storage crates and created hopscotch boards.

“It felt rewarding to know that I had a positive impact on the families who stay here,” said Jonathan Resnic, 18, of Swampscott, who oversaw the construction of the picnic tables. “I was one of the last people to leave the site. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment.”

18121627_10154718100099601_1527243467715168722_oSamantha Wheeler with the Lynn Shelter Association says the teens’ work will make a difference.

“They’re giving families an area where they can feel safe, appreciated… where they can sit outside and enjoy themselves,” Wheeler said.

“It’s about community building,” she added, “breaking down barriers between the homeless and people who might not always spend time in downtown Lynn.”

Jewish Teen Initiative has a strong relationship with the Lynn Shelter Association, sending teen volunteers to read to and play with homeless children each week.

Construction zoneFor the teens at J-Serve, volunteering is a key component of the Jewish value of tikkun olam, Hebrew for “repairing the world.”

“I’ve always been fortunate enough to have had a roof over my head and food to eat, so offering my time and help is the least I can do to help those in need,” said Ariella Nardizzi, who lives in Nahant and attends Swampscott High School. She helped organize and paint two hopscotch boards, clean up trash in the parking lot and landscape flower beds.

Gayle Rubin of Swampscott has been involved with J-Serve for seven years and is now board chair at Jewish Teen Initiative. She looks forward to J-Serve every year.

“Everyone was happy, excited, inspired and ready to work hard to complete their projects,” she said. “Additionally, this year we fed more than 100 shelter residents and homeless individuals and families walking by. These individuals were in awe that teens were out working to make their space better. I returned home absolutely exhausted, yet so energized. There is no way to attend J-Serve and not feel good about yourself, your community, how fortunate we are for what we have and the organization that exists.”

After hours of digging and planting, Quintero was exhausted and had blisters on his hands. But he’s not complaining.

“I’m already looking forward to next year,” he said.

Girls gardening

Jewish Teen Initiative runs dozens of teen programs on the North Shore and Metrowest, featuring community service, national travel, leadership training and social events. Learn more at

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