GTA teens serve in J-Serve for a day of volunteering
April 27, 2012 | Rachel Levy Sarfin - Correspondent
TORONTO – What do you call it when nearly 500 Jewish teens in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) from 20 different youth groups and a variety of religious affiliations come together to do some good for the community?
The answer is J-Serve, also known as the Global Day of Jewish Youth Service, which took place on April 22.
J-Serve was launched in 2005, and has now spread to 40 cities around the world. This was the third year in which teens from the GTA participated in the international initiative, thanks to the support of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the BBYO Panim Institute. About 10,000 teens participated across the globe.
J-Serve Toronto, coordinated by BBYO’s Lake Ontario Region, was designed to encourage community building as well as to foster connections across different religious and social groups. The event also served to open teens’ eyes about the opportunities to help people all over the city.
Registrants were asked to choose one of 16 volunteer opportunities across the city. Their choices for service included tree planting and cleanup at Earl Bales Park, organizing props in Teatron Toronto Jewish Theatre’s off-site warehouse, helping young adults with physical or cognitive challenges train for an Olympic day at DANI, and assembling school supply kits as well as making sandwiches at Ve’ahavta.
The day started when participants checked in at Tanenbaum CHAT’s Wallenberg campus. They attended a short kickoff show to energize them for the day’s volunteering. The teen volunteers were then transported to their chosen service sites. At the close of the day, the participants returned to CHAT for a closing event. Representatives from volunteer organizations set up tables to introduce the teens to other service opportunities.
J-Serve attracted both first timers and veterans of the event. JOLT member and first time J-Serve volunteer Jacob Weinberg, 16, chose to plant trees at Earl Bales Park because he prefers being outside and “wanted something hands on.” BBYO member Anastasia Shekhurdina, 15, also volunteering with J-Serve for the first time, signed up to organize Teatron’s prop warehouse because she loves getting to look behind the scenes and it gives her a chance to meet new people.
Another unexpected advantage of J-Serve is publicity for the organizations.
Samara Bell, 14, a CASY member who has volunteered for two years at J-Serve, signed up to clean up the Teatron’s off-site warehouse after her friend told her about the theatre company’s shows. She is now interested in going to see a Teatron production.
Kevin Goodman, executive director of BBYO’s Lake Ontario Region,was pleased about how the day turned out.
“It was a fantastic example of community building and it was inspiring to see so many organizations and Jewish affiliations come together for an impactful and meaningful day,” he said, adding that he was also excited that this year brought more partner organizations on board.
New service sites included Frontier College, a literacy program; New Circles Community Services, a clothing bank; and the Kehilla Residential Program, the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s official housing agency.
J-Serve’s ultimate success: engaging teens in volunteering and encouraging them to continue to serve their communities.
Bell, for one, is already looking forward to volunteering at J-Serve again next year.