In an extension of its successful 2014 Sandy Teen Fellows leadership training effort, the Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ recently sponsored a Mini Teen Mitzva Day to give the program’s veterans and newcomers a chance to flex their community service skills.
Gathering Jan. 11 at the federation’s Holmdel office (the program was originated by the pre-merger Jewish Federation of Monmouth County), the teens made sandwiches for the needy, sorted donated food, made fleece blankets, and created cards for lone soldiers in the Israeli military and for homebound senior citizens.
Although the tasks were quieter and less physically demanding than the housing recovery work the teens undertook last spring on behalf of victims of Superstorm Sandy, they helped the teens “maintain their focus on Jewish social justice and community service,” said Penny Joel, the federation’s director of teen programming,
“I participated in Mitzva Day because I knew that the few hours that I gave were going to touch and help many people,” said Cali Arenson, a 12th-grader from Manalapan. “I love the feeling I get when I know I am able to put a smile on soldiers’ and senior citizens’ faces by just making a card and writing something dear to them,”
Mia Malkin of Freehold, another high school senior, said, “I really think it’s a good thing to have a day where everyone takes the time to give back and do things for others.”
Joel described Mitzva Day as the first installment in what will be a series of teen-oriented events, including Israel education and advocacy as well as volunteer opportunities.
In 2015, Sandy Teens will encompass two components, “Sandy Teen Fellows and Sandy Senior Fellows,” said Joel.
“The Sandy Teen Fellows are 18 new teens who are learning about Jewish social justice and volunteering with Sea Bright Rising, the umbrella organization responsible for restoring displaced families to their homes. The teens applied in the fall and started the program in December,” she said.
The Sandy Senior fellows are a group of 20 teens who participated in the Sandy Teen Fellows program last year, and who will continue to volunteer in Sea Bright, while also planning and running other social justice activities for teens.
“Sandy Teen Fellows is a selective program that helps teens learn about philanthropy by doing,” said Joel. “They participate in the decision-making process to direct a portion of donated funds to Sandy-related relief organizations.”
The cost of participating in the Sandy Teen Fellowship is $180, and scholarships are available for those requiring assistance. Participants can report service credits to high schools, honor societies, and colleges.
Jenna Horowitz of Keansburg, one of last year’s volunteers, said her own family was temporarily ousted from their home by Hurricane Sandy.
“Right after the storm everyone would ask me, ‘Are you OK?’ but after a while they stopped asking. I know how that feels, and I’m really glad I can help others in the same situation,” she said.