Tag Archives: ReachOut!

Reaching Out in a New City

This week, a message from Israel Engagement Program Manager Rachel Goldberg, who is an active volunteer with JCRC’s ReachOut! Program:

When I settled in Boston after college, I was suddenly hit with a dilemma: The convenience of my campus Hillel and my regular Friday college volunteer group was no longer available. I found myself in a new city, searching for opportunities to volunteer, and hoping to find friends who shared this passion.

Service is foundational to my Jewish identity and practice. The constant news of injustice and suffering in our world often overwhelms me, and I feel an obligation to do my small part to help alleviate hardships for those in the community around me.

So I was thrilled to discover ReachOut!, a program that connected me with a community-based non-profit organization where I could volunteer after work with other Jewish young adults. Over the past three years, ReachOut! has provided me with fulfilling ways to give back to the Greater Boston community while enabling me to form deep bonds with a diverse group of incredible volunteers of all ages and backgrounds.

I volunteer at the Tuesday Meals program at the First Church in Cambridge, where ReachOut! volunteers have been helping out for over ten years. The church is only a short walk from my house, and I serve my neighbors a warm meal each Tuesday, some of whom are homeless and others who are experiencing food insecurity. After serving each guest their three-course meal, the volunteers often grab a plate and join them for dinner. I often sit with the Israel enthusiast from Kenya who talks politics with me every week. I complain about the MBTA with Patrick, and sometimes I get singled out by Peter if I look like I’m having a bad day. The best part about serving my community is seeing the guests outside of the meal. I feel more connected with my neighbors, and they are always happy to see a friendly face, whether outside the Cambridge library, near South Station, or on my own street.

Getting to know the guests has also exposed me to the challenges they, and so many in Greater Boston, face, such as the rising cost of living, lack of access to shelters, or drug dependency. Some people are seeking a hearty balanced dinner, and some are looking for a warm place to spend time with friendly people on a cold Boston night. Tuesday Meals provides a welcoming environment for them all, and the team of dedicated volunteers and professionals strives to make our meal a known resource in the community.

The volunteers at each meal are another piece of my community. Whenever I describe them, I refer to them as my “Tuesday Meals family.” ReachOut! introduced me to an amazing group of young adult peers and volunteers outside the Jewish community, many of whom have also been volunteering with the program for years, and who I might not have gotten to know otherwise. Patience, a member of the church who is over 70 years old, has been volunteering at Tuesday Meals for 25 years, and always gives me a hug when I walk in the door. Mike is the warmest meal coordinator you will ever meet and works at Tuesday Meals part time as he finishes Divinity School. Pam was the cook for the first two years of my time volunteering and I considered her a mentor. Originally from Dorchester, she always took interest in our group of Jewish volunteers and asked us about holidays and traditions. I used to work in the kitchen sometimes just to spend time with her and we would add funny videos to her Instagram stories. I was unsure and insecure as a newly-graduated young adult and Pam always told me that I should believe in myself— that I was amazing, and I could accomplish anything. I still miss Pam, her wise words have stayed with me.

By volunteering together each week, I’ve also formed lasting relationships with my ReachOut! cohort and have successfully built a community of Jewish peers who share my values. Not only have our friendships grown while serving food together, but our group often goes out to drinks or dinner after each meal, which always gives us time to swap stories and struggles of the past week. We get together for Shabbat meals as part of the program, which gives us a unique opportunity to celebrate our Judaism and bond outside of a volunteer setting.

Meeting people in the community from all backgrounds, fields, and walks of life has forever changed my perspective on what it means to live a meaningful life. ReachOut! site options range from tutoring in the South End, to volunteering with the elderly in Brookline, to helping people feel more food secure in Dorchester, and many more. Time commitments vary: you can volunteer for a whole volunteer cycle or sign up as a drop-in volunteer and create your own volunteer schedule. Registration is now open and I can’t recommend it enough. ReachOut! has anchored my home in Boston. It has given me the ability to interact with amazing people who I would have never been able to meet otherwise. I hope you’ll consider joining me to volunteer in the fall!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rachel

Snapshot of Service | A Message from our Young Adult Social Justice Programs Coordinator

Just a few weeks ago, Jeremy wrote that even in the aftermath of a tense election, the values of our organization and our Jewish community have not changed. For young adults who are particularly unsettled in this uncharted territory, volunteering could provide the keys to resiliency. While we take the time to practice self-care, let’s also challenge ourselves to take action in caring for one another.

For nearly seven years, ReachOut! has given Jewish young adults in Greater Boston the opportunity to give back to their own communities, volunteering in places they might not otherwise with people they wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to encounter. These volunteers are idealistic, committed and deeply connected to their peers and the people they serve. Thanks to ReachOut!, volunteering once a week has become a part of  their way of life and their weekly schedule, enabling them to act on their most cherished Jewish values. Here are just two examples:

United South End Settlements (USES), serving residents of the South End and Lower Roxbury, was Boston’s first settlement site in 1891. Formerly known as Harriet Tubman House, USES offers a wide variety of services for low-income families, including adult basic education classes which prepare students of all levels to earn the HiSET, (formerly the Graduate Equivalency Degree). ReachOut! volunteers, including site captain Joseph Lichterman, tutor adults studying for the HiSET every Thursday evening.

Joseph and his peers work individually with those enrolled in the classes to give them the much-needed individualized attention they need to pass the test. Typically, Joseph coaches students on their reading, both by reading aloud and guiding them through comprehension exercises. “I’ve been able to see the students’ reading abilities improve,” he says. “Their pronunciation and comprehension tend to get better, but also it’s really fun to see them get into the books we are reading and to be able to talk to them about the plot and themes of the novels.” Joseph has profound admiration for his student’s hard work and commitment, and draws inspiration from them. USES’s English teacher finds the work of the volunteers invaluable to his students’ achievement. He relies on the support of regular volunteers, like the team from ReachOut!, and sees marked improvement from the students after they work individually with a volunteer.

Leah Robbins, Co-Chair of the ReachOut! Steering Committee and USES volunteer, finds that her participation in the program gives her the opportunity to learn about the lives of peers from different backgrounds than her own. “I got matched with a student who had moved to the US from Cuba four months ago and we had a conversation that touched on his life as an actor; his experience of being perceived first as a member of an outsider group rather than an individual; his impressions of the US so far; and even who Harriet Tubman was in US history,” Leah says. “What a conversation!  Getting to speak with someone who's had such different experiences wouldn't have happened for me any other way.”

Joseph and Leah’s stories are just two snapshots of committed ReachOut! volunteers who not only give their time and energy each week, but are so enriched by the experience. In this time when we are helpless, it is even more important to dedicate ourselves in service to others and to celebrate those who act on their commitment to make the world a better place for all.

Yet another volunteer opportunity is coming in January, this one also open to families and teens. January 16th is JCRC’s 2nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, and we hope to see many members of our community there. We will send more information as it becomes available.

Shabbat Shalom,

Julie Hollander
Young Adult Social Justice Programs Coordinator