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Local youth volunteer in New Orleans
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Local youth volunteer in New Orleans

Fourteen teens from New Jersey were among the 80 who stepped up to do volunteer work as part of Young Judaea’s 2011 alternative winter break, which took participants to locations in New Orleans and Arizona.

From Dec. 25 to 30, one group of students lent a hand in community service activities in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, renovating and repairing homes and working with local youth. The projects were designed to help the Young Judaeans develop a stronger understanding of rebuilding efforts, environmental sustainability, and poverty issues in the Gulf Coast region.

A second group headed to Arizona, where they gained an understanding of the Native American experience and Navajo culture in particular.

According to organizers, Young Judaea’s alternative winter break, begun five years ago, is designed to challenge students by taking them out of the comfort of their everyday surroundings and immersing them in an unfamiliar environment. The program also aims to further develop the teens’ embracing the Jewish values tikun olam, repairing the world, and tzedek, social justice.

All the NJ participants headed to New Orleans, including Yael David, a 12th-grader from Livingston who serves as Young Judaea’s national president; her sister Merav David, a sophomore; and 11th-graders Stephanie Blitzer of East Windsor, who returned to New Orleans for Alternative Winter Break for the second consecutive year; Abby Park of Lawrenceville; and Shelby Lipson of East Brunswick.

“There’s something special about volunteering with this group of people,” said Yael David. “Whether I’m installing CFL light bulbs, putting up drywall, painting a parking lot, or throwing a holiday party for local families, I know that my peers around me care about this work just as much as I do.

“We are all proud to embody the value of ‘tikun olam’ and help leave our world in a better condition than the way we found it.”

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