We were out at recess and it was time to come in. Five students came up to Stephanie Rotsky and said, “We were meeting during recess and we want to do mitzvot together. We want to work with people that are older, and we already have a name for ourselves: the Mitzvah Makers. Can you help us?”
When she was approached by her Grade 2 students at recess more than 25 years ago, The Rashi School director of social justice Stephanie Rotsky could not have imagined that the vision of a few well-meaning students would grow into a program that counts its participants in the hundreds. This year, there are currently 50 students in Grades 2-5 participating in Mitzvah Makers.
That first year, their parents helped oversee the program. “We were at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Roslindale and connected with the staff there. They were thrilled that students wanted to come in and spread some joy,” explained Stephanie.
Today, Rashi’s Mitzvah Makers constitutes a monthly program where students, teachers and parent volunteers visit with residents at NewBridge on the Charles. Each month’s visit takes on a different theme. Activities are designed by the students, under the guidance of the Rashi Mitzvah Makers team, and vetted by the NewBridge team. So far this year, students and residents have shared and heard stories about their respective Thanksgiving and Chanukah traditions, as well as discussed Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“One of the greatest draws to Rashi for our family was the strong connection between the NewBridge community and The Rashi School. Over the course of a dozen years teaching here, my classes had numerous opportunities to visit residents in independent living, the health care center and the memory care center. What quickly became apparent was how rich the lives of the residents were and continue to be, how excited they were to share their stories with our students and the joy that everyone took away from our visits. I think it’s a great thing for people to be together, and for the residents to enjoy life while also having fun with us. I think it’s been really great,” said Grade 5 student Mate Lessing.
“They love seeing us. Their faces always light up. They remind me of my great-grandmother,” said Grade 5 student Jullian Hammer.
The work between Stephanie and the NewBridge team, led by Lynda Bussgang, director of volunteer, youth and community engagement, ensured that our students not only connected their visits to each grade’s curriculum, but also cultivated personal relationships with residents. As someone whose grandparents had long since passed on, I found these visits personally gratifying as well. I heard about the Mitzvah Makers after-school program and envisioned myself and my own children taking part in it.
I had always assumed that my older son, Ben, would take part in Mitzvah Makers. While after-school activities created some scheduling challenges for us as a family, we were prepared for Ben to become the next Mitzvah Maker when the pandemic hit. When the world opened back up and we heard that Mitzvah Makers were being welcomed back to NewBridge, my younger son, Danny, and I did not miss the chance! Being part of the team with Stephanie, social justice educator Sarah Monderer, assistant teacher Patty Sheehan and our parent volunteers has reinforced my positive feelings about the work our school does. I look forward to continuing to foster these joyful interactions between our students and our friends just next door!
Joey Regen is high school placement associate at The Rashi School.
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