Tag Archives: Service

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

Two Decades and Counting

As we usher in 5777, we begin a new year of community service programming at JCRC.  This year, the Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL) reaches the major milestone of 20 years of programming.  Launched in response to President Bill Clinton’s call to action called America Reads in 1996, GBJCL places volunteers in high needs public schools where students benefit from the one on one attention volunteers provide.

Over the years, our volunteers have made the program their own, not only working with students on reading, but helping them with math, writing, and a variety of subjects.  One longtime volunteer, Nancy Krieger, brought her background as a dance-movement therapist to help students settle and concentrate while learning.  Nancy said, “Our one-to-one tutoring has proven to be so much more than the skills we practice, and the assignments we assist the students to complete; it is the RELATIONSHIP that we nurture.”

For some of our volunteers, their dedication, both to their students and their schools grows over time. Seymour Newberger, from Temple Beth Emunah in Brockton, has been a dedicated GBJCL volunteer for over five years.  He has been working with 5th grade students at the Arnone School in Brockton for a whopping 20-30 hours each week!  Sy, a retired civil engineer, works on math and science with groups of students almost every day, from morning until the school day ends. He arrives with his own custom prepared lesson plans, complete with original questions and activities on the subjects being learned in the classroom.

Arnone School teacher, Erin McGuire sums up Sy’s vast contribution, “Sy has been a lifesaver in meeting the needs of our students who are individual learners. He started volunteering for 30 minutes and now spends almost the entire day helping the entire 5th grade.”

A former long-time Boy Scout leader, Sy also serves as a mentor.  Ms. Oalican, another 5th grade teacher, shared the positive impact Sy has on her students, “Sy is very patient, extremely giving, funny, and the kids fight over who gets to go [work] with him. He’s a great male role model for the students and he creates real world examples of how math is used.”

As GBJCL anticipates its third decade, we’re delighted to welcome our new director, Rebecca Shimshak.  Most recently at Gann Academy, Becca brings over 15 years of experience developing educational programming and promoting volunteerism.  We’re so glad to have her here to celebrate our 20th year of the program.

5777 gives us a lot to be excited about.  We are proud that GBJCL, and all our service programs, continue to expand and reinvent themselves. Our new staff brings a fresh energy and perspective that will build on the program successes we’ve had.  In the year ahead, service will continue to be a cornerstone of our work at JCRC, serving as an outlet for people to express and live out their social justice values.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Reading and Relationships

Kids may be counting down the days until school’s out for summer, but at JCRC, we’re still reveling in the successes of our students, volunteers, and partner schools that participated in our Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL) this year. We’re retelling the story of the first graders who excitedly shared pizza with their seventh grade Solomon Schechter Day School reading buddies and sent them off with joyful high-fives; we’re recounting the legal professionals who hosted their young friends in their the law library to show them how reading can translate into a career and can start to imagine futures full of exciting possibilities; and, we’re dreaming up ways to make the program even more robust and special next year as we mobilize the Jewish community to help elementary school children discover the joy of reading for the 20th year!

We’ve already come a long way – when GBJCL was launched, our tutoring teams were drawn primarily from synagogues, with day schools joining shortly thereafter. But after witnessing the profound impact of our volunteers on young emerging readers, we committed to expanding the program. As we often do, we turned to one of JCRC’s volunteer leaders, then-JCRC Board member Phil Rosenblatt. We asked Phil to make a shidduch (match) between GBJCL and his law firm Nutter, McClellan and Fish. Phil eagerly accepted our request and a partnership was born, creating opportunities for people in all departments of the firm to volunteer on a regular basis.

To this day, a dozen Nutter volunteers join with students in Grades K-3
from the Mason School in Roxbury for an estimated 200 hours a year, sharing books, tackling challenging school work, and building lasting bonds. A pilot school in the heart of the New Market Industrial Area, Mason is an intimate community, with a leadership that nutterreflects the diversity of its student body. Over three quarters of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, over 30% receive Special Education services and about 25% are English Language Learners. The Mason partnership with Nutter is cherished by students and faculty alike. Our liaison from Boston Public Schools tells us, “This is unlike anything else we have to offer students. The relationships the students develop with the volunteers are so significant; through them they have access to a set of models they don’t otherwise encounter. There is so much more work to be done but we couldn’t do any of it without partners like you!”

Alicia Lenci (photo below), an accounting specialist at Nutter, eagerly joined GBJCL as a volunteer five years ago. She is constantly crafting her own materials for her students, taking a special interest in learning about their unique backgrounds and learning needs. Though most volunteers serve bi-weekly (in alternating pairs so that each student has a consistent weekly session) Alicia volunteers weekly, going above and beyond her commitment to her students.

aliciaAsked to describe her experience Alicia said, The hard working and dedicated teachers at the Mason School are inspiring!  Pure joy is the best description. What fun it is to share my love of reading with beginner readers. As the school year moves along I love helping the student discover what really interests them.”

Through GBJCL and JCRC’s other service programs, we inspire our community to act on our core values, bridge differences, and build meaningful connections across communities. Animating our programs is an extraordinary cadre of volunteers who share a commitment and passion for building a stronger and more equitable community, one that affords access and opportunity for all. They delight in getting to know young children and helping them realize their potential as they discover the joy of reading. And the benefits clearly go both ways, as the children find a special place in the heart of our volunteers. If you have any doubt, just check out the expression on the faces of hard working professionals at Nutter, as they get a chance to step away from their desks and enter the lives of eager young learners!

So, as GBJCL concludes its 19th year, we’re as excited as the kids are for summer because that’s when we’ll be planning for our 20th anniversary year, when we further expand our pool of volunteers, and provide reading support to many more students in the many schools requesting our services. Maybe you, your business, your school or your synagogue are our next partners? I promise that if you are, you’ll have sweet memories of your impact on children’s lives too.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Thousands of People are Waiting | A Message from our Director of Service Initiatives

Martin Luther King Jr said, “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”  Most of us are familiar with this quote and similar expressions of the importance of volunteerism.  Words like this have inspired generations of people to participate in community service.  This notion of making the world a better place through individual acts is deeply rooted in American culture, dating back to the colonial era with the first volunteer fire departments, and groups of volunteers who supported the revolution.  The pursuit of justice is at the core of Judaism as well. 

Today, volunteerism is widespread and serves as a common link between the for-profit, government, and non-profit sectors. The national conversation on this was front and center last week when I attended the Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service. The breadth of industries represented was extensive, from big name fashion corporations to municipal government groups to grassroots advocacy organizations, all with an investment in community service. It was clear that service is not only important in the non-profit world, but is crucial to the functioning of every sector. 

While there was a lot to take in from four days of conversation about all facets of the volunteer engagement world, a few lessons stood out. The United States is witnessing a unique and important moment in time for volunteerism. More than ever, millennials are looking for meaningful service work where they can roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. Bill Basl, Director of AmeriCorps, a featured speaker at the conference, cited that 70% of millennials have the desire to make a difference but only 3% volunteer. At the same time, the baby boomer generation is retiring and they want to use the skills they have cultivated over the years to serve a good cause. 

This is an exciting prospect for those of us thinking about how to include more people in volunteer service. There are thousands of people waiting for the right kind of opportunity. It was startling to learn that while 65 million Americans volunteer, 20 million do not return to serve again.  We clearly have our work cut out for us.

What are the implications for JCRC as a service organization and the Boston Jewish community?  We are extremely well positioned for this new pivot to community service. JCRC has a current portfolio of service programs that provides opportunities for people of all ages, millennials and baby boomers alike. Our hope for the future is to expand on these initiatives and provide a range of ways for the Jewish community to become involved in service. We are committed to recruiting, supporting and sustaining energetic groups of well trained volunteers who truly make a difference, by addressing needs identified and prioritized by our partners; community based organizations on the ground throughout Greater Boston.

Our volunteers are deeply passionate about the organizations with which they work. Our service sites drive the experience so the impact is real and meaningful. Sustained community service fosters genuine relationships between people that keep our volunteers coming back, sometimes for as much as eighteen years. 

Our sense of community derives from our shared Jewish values. A commitment to chessed and gimilut chasadim, acts of loving-kindness, is what keeps us grounded together in this work.  This winter, we will have another opportunity to come together, as representatives of the Jewish community, and in collaboration with volunteers throughout Greater Boston in the name of service. For the first time, JCRC will be organizing volunteers from the Jewish community to participate in the Martin Luther King Jr national day of service on January 18th, 2016. We will work together with our partners at City Mission to identify real community need, and engage our volunteers in a meaningful way. 

I invite you to join us in this movement, to learn more about our service programs, and to discover the right volunteer opportunity for you. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Emily Reichman
Director of Service Initiatives

Why Service?

Last night, JCRC was very proud to host JCRC Celebrates: Generations of Service, where we recognized JCRC’s community service programs and the generations of leaders who’ve made them possible. Through the generosity of our community, our inaugural live auction raised nearly $45,000 to benefit our service programs, and we are extremely appreciative to all.

Why, some have asked, do we put service programs at the heart of our work as a community relations agency along with our advocacy and interfaith agenda?

I’m certain that you will begin to understand why after you view our new video, Generations of Service, which we premiered last night. Please take a few minutes now to watch HERE. I hope you’ll be as inspired by our volunteers as I am.

JCRC exists so that we can express our Jewish community’s values in the broader public square of Boston. There is no clearer way of expressing our values than through action, through the doing of service. 

As I sat in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah I was reminded again that in our prayers this week we express contrition - not for our beliefs but for our actions; and we express contrition for these actions not in a singular “I,” but in the plural responsibility of “We.”

We do not live our Judaism through shared beliefs - though we do share a few of those - but rather by what we do.  And so much of what we do is to act upon our responsibility to others around us.

When we provide meals and share a conversation with those who are struggling; when we sit with children and help them learn to read; when we connect joyfully with seniors; we are acting on our respect for the dignity of others and demonstrating our responsibility for those around us.

In celebrating JCRC’s community service programs and the generations of leaders who’ve made them possible we honored three families – the Lynda and Jeff Bussgang family, Amanda and Campe Goodman, and Rachel and Joel Reck - who have, through their leadership, allowed us to build robust service opportunities in our community, and acted as role models for others.  We also honored my friend and mentor, Barry Shrage. I can think of no better way for us at JCRC to celebrate his legacy than to establish an award in his name and to carry forward the idea that he has consistently taught us for 30 years: To act on our values, to fulfill our responsibility to the people around us, and to relate to others with love and compassion.

This is what service is about. This is what JCRC is about. This is what our community is about.

I hope that you’ll take a few minutes to read our new annual report to learn about opportunities to join us in service, organizing, and advocacy during the coming year.

I’m grateful to all of those who’ve worked so hard to bring us together last night, especially our fabulous event chair Mark Friedman and his co-chair Ben Pearlman along with the JCRC event team who together envisioned this evening and made it a labor of love.

Thank you all for being part of our community and our work.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy

Reaching Out Beyond Mitzvah Days

I read with interest a recent Boston Globe article that explored issues regarding the burden that some non-profits experience when well-meaning volunteers donate time that, well, may not be needed. The article made me pause to reflect on the work that JCRC does in the community. Are our volunteers having the impact we hope for?

To address my concern I sought out leaders from our ReachOut! program to hear about their experience and their thoughts about the article. 

“Through ReachOut!, we've served approximately 8,000 meals to members of our community at the First Parish soup kitchen in Cambridge. We offer the dignity of serving a meal at a dinner table to individuals who may be ignored the rest of the week,” said Jonathan Sclarsic, a member of the ReachOut! Steering Committee and a volunteer for over 3 years. “Food insecurity is a real issue in our community, one that we often don't notice. ReachOut! not only makes a real difference by serving meals, but helps bring to light the challenges of hunger and homelessness.”

Jonathan’s comment belies the conventional wisdom about young adults — that they are too busy focusing on their burgeoning careers and on their social lives to think about volunteering.  People will tell you that the most you can hope for is for them to volunteer very sporadically, maybe participate in an annual community service event or as we often call them in the Jewish community, “mitzvah days.”

But in fact, that has not been our experience. Since ReachOut!’s inception, the leaders who envisioned and ultimately designed and implemented the program were clear about the experience they wanted to offer their peers who volunteer – and the service they wanted to provide the community. They understood that their service would have meaning to them and impact on the ground, only if it were ongoing and occurred within the context of interpersonal relationships. So together, we created a program of weekly volunteering in small groups, through 9 week cycles that occur twice a year.

As a result, we developed strong partnerships with community based nonprofits, and depend on their expertise to craft service experiences that are not only fulfilling for our volunteers but also respond to real need on the ground. We limit the number of volunteers to ensure that they are truly needed. And we build a sense of community among our volunteers, through Shabbat dinners and opportunities to reflect together on their service experience.

Five years into it, the program is continuing to build steam – reaching out to new partners, attracting new volunteers, and developing new leaders. In fact, our volunteers have asked for more service opportunities as they continually raise the bar on their commitment. The cycles have grown to 12 weeks, and this year for the first time, they’re adding a summer cycle – since community needs don’t go on hiatus and volunteers don’t want a break during the summer months!

Here is a list of where our ReachOut! volunteers are currently serving:

Hunger and Homelessness
Senior Connections
Youth Connections
Adult Education

To learn more about ReachOut! for yourself or for a young adult in your life, visit http://bitly.com/reachout15

Shabbat Shalom,
Jeremy