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B’nei mitzva plant academic success
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B’nei mitzva plant academic success

Social service projects help deserving youth thrive against odds

As the final chapter of her mitzva project, Annie Schiffer hands out stocked backpacks she collected and assembled for youngsters being helped by SEEDS.
As the final chapter of her mitzva project, Annie Schiffer hands out stocked backpacks she collected and assembled for youngsters being helped by SEEDS.

Over this past year, four local teens have focused their bar/bat mitzva social service efforts on helping other deserving youngsters get a great education.

The youngsters — seventh-graders Zachary Keller, Will Schaffer, and Annie Schiffer from Summit and Adam Present from Maplewood — all chose New Jersey SEEDS as their vehicle for doing good.

The name stands for Scholars, Educators, Excellence, Dedication, Success. The organization, a Newark-based, statewide nonprofit started in 1992, helps motivated, high-achieving students from low-income families achieve academic goals that might otherwise have been out of their reach. The results are convincing: Its alumnae have a 99 percent college acceptance rate.

Zach, a student at The Pingry School in Martinsville, celebrated becoming bar mitzva in January at Temple Sinai, the Reform congregation in Summit. Assisted by his mother Michelle and younger brother Matthew, he sought donations from friends and family. He, like the other three, took part in the organization’s book club, reading with SEEDS scholars, and he brought breakfasts to SEEDS kids studying weekends at Pingry.

“I decided to donate to SEEDS because I feel it’s a great local organization that really affects kids’ lives in a way that I can relate to,” he said. “SEEDS has even helped kids get into my school, Pingry.”

Will, who attends Summit Middle School, had his bar mitzva ceremony in March, also at Temple Sinai. With the help of his parents, Laura and Jeff Schaffer, he organized a basketball free-throw competition that raised $2,500. He added in some of his bar mitzva gift money, and also asked guests to make donations to SEEDS instead of giving him gifts. Like Zach, he also brought breakfast to students doing academic work on the weekends.

Will said he got the idea for the free-throw contest to benefit SEEDS from a chance meeting with someone who inspired him.

Will’s parents organize a party each year for area students who have been accepted to Stanford University, Jeff’s alma mater. It was at this gathering that Will met one of those students, Wade Morgan. “Wade told me he was interested in playing basketball at Stanford,” Will said. “With basketball being my favorite sport, I immediately challenged him to a game of HORSE, a contest testing players’ skills at making shots.

A couple of weeks later, Laura Schaffer showed Will an article about the NJ SEEDS program in a local magazine that highlighted — Wade Morgan. “I was amazed that Wade had participated and was even more impressed by his accomplishments,” said Will. “I looked into NJ SEEDS and what it does. I knew then that I wanted to raise money for this worthy organization.

“I feel very fortunate to have all that I do in my life,” said Will, “and I found it amazing what NJ SEEDS can provide for these worthy students.”

He added, “A couple of months ago, I found out that Wade made the basketball team at Stanford. But, by the way, I beat him in our game of HORSE.”

Annie, who goes to the Kent Place School in Summit, became bat mitzva at the Summit Jewish Community Center in June last year. She raised $1,500 through what she called her “Hoopapalooza umbrella fund-raising event.” She also took part in a book group with a group of SEEDS students at her school, and collected school supplies and backpacks for them from fellow congregants, family, and friends.

“We put together school supplies in cute lunch boxes and used them as the centerpieces at my bat mitzva kiddush,” she said. “We had just the right amount to pass on as gifts to the SEEDS scholars.”

Being able to help other students was important for her too. “I go to a private school and I wanted to help other people get into private schools so that they could have as good an experience as I’ve had,” she said.

Adam, like Zach, is a student at Pingry. He lives in Maplewood and became bar mitzva at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange in May 2011. He learned about SEEDS through his mother, Susan, who is chair of the organization’s board of trustees.

“SEEDS is meaningful to me because I like to learn, and I want to help others learn too,” he told NJJN. “I held a Dress Down Day and a bake sale at my school, and invited my friends to donate to SEEDS instead of giving a gift to me,” he said. “I raised over $6,000!”

Adam also brought bagels to the weekend classes, helped pack care packages for SEEDS alumni in boarding school, and participated in SEEDS book clubs.

Ronni Denes, the president and executive director of NJ SEEDS, said in an e-mail to NJJN, “What these four have done for SEEDS is more than just donate funds to help ensure that their peers have access to education similar to their own. They have donated their time and talents to the organization as well, and we are extremely grateful for their support and that of their family and friends on SEEDS’ behalf.”

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