On April 22, more than 200 volunteers—young children, families, teens—converged on the North Shore for North Shore Mitzvah Day, a collaboration between CJP and the Jewish Teen Initiative of Greater Boston (JTI), a network of civic-minded Jewish teenagers.
The group worked at Salem’s Plummer Youth Promise foster home and at Lifebridge transitional housing, cooking meals and performing beautification projects, painting murals, building Adirondack chairs and revamping picnic benches.
The Plummer teenagers were traveling for the weekend, so they’ll come home to a refurbished campus. JTI leaders and high school seniors Halle Johnson from Beverly and Maya Goldman from Marblehead helped to spearhead the event.
“It’s so exciting that they’ll get surprised,” says Johnson.
This was the biggest Mitzvah Day yet, says Goldman.
“The turnout was great—it 100 percent exceeded my expectations,” she says. Some teenagers attended the secular event for community service hours for senior year projects; other families and younger children were merely eager to give back. For Goldman, the connection to Judaism and tikkun olam was important, especially as she leaves home for Binghamton University next year.
The JTI Peer Leadership Fellows program gave her a strong desire to give back to the community, she says. Through JTI and the fellowship, she has helped to unite Jewish teens for community service initiatives and outings, from ski trips to music events. The program taught her how to network, reach out to others, plan events and generate enthusiasm, she says. One popular event is Super Sunday, which happens the weekend before Thanksgiving. Teens gather to prepare food and gifts for shelters.
“The program taught me how to better communicate with others, especially others my age, and how to start networking. This will be useful later on in life. It also honestly showed me how many more Jewish teens there are than what I thought,” she says. “The biggest goal is to engage Jewish teens, to show them that being involved and being Jewish can be fun. It doesn’t have to be strict and only about going to temple. You can meet other teenagers who are just like you.”
Meanwhile, Johnson has worked with JTI since seventh grade, volunteering on Super Sunday and with Habitat for Humanity. She knows that engaging in community service can be overwhelming for people her age: Where to start? How to find time?
“Just find things you’re interested in first, whether it’s painting, cooking or gardening. There’s something for everyone. Start small, and then you can get bigger,” she says.
She’ll attend Bryant University next year, and she feels heartened by Mitzvah Day’s big response. The program is in good hands, she says.
“It was nice to see such a big turnout. I’m a senior; it’s nice to know there will be a big group who will be a part of it once I’m gone,” she says.
Applications for JTI’s Peer Leadership Fellows program close on May 10. This year, there’s a new twist: They added an inclusion program where teenagers will be trained to work with teens with special needs. The group has partnered with Ruderman Family Foundation, Gateways and other organizations to provide high-level inclusion training and leadership development. Fellows will learn how to welcome teens who might have traditionally found it harder to join these activities.
Sound interesting? Learn more here.