For the teenage leaders of the April 22 day of service in the Central community, there was a poignant note to the generally upbeat event. As the 100 or so youngsters went about their various tasks — from crocheting hats for Israeli babies and baking cookies for the hungry, to clearing a weed-clogged stream in Roselle — some were also saying their goodbyes.
The organizing committee, made up of teens from the JCC of Central New Jersey and from the Plainfield I Have a Dream project, came up with the Come A.L.I.V.E. in the Community program when they were high school freshmen. The initials stand for Alliance, Leadership, Involvement, Volunteerism, and Energy. They envisaged it as a way to learn “to give back.” Now they are seniors, and this fourth event was their last before graduation.
But Lindsay Napchen, the JCC’s teen services director who led their group for the past two years, said their efforts will have a lasting impact. “They’ve created a sort of cultural icon here in the JCC community — this is a yearly teen community service event that our teens expect to find each spring,” she said.
“I definitely plan to continue on with the program, bringing in a new cohort of leaders to spearhead the day.”
Over the past couple of years, Come A.L.I.V.E. has been affiliated with J-Serve’s National Day of Jewish Youth Service, but local organizers aimed to reach beyond the JCC community to partner with schools, community centers, church groups, and other Jewish youth groups in the area. Napchen said, “I was so pleased to see that we met that goal. We had teens from Scotch Plains, Westfield, Springfield, Plainfield, Cranford, Clark, Edison, Warren/Watchung, and Union, as well as teens from Union Catholic High School and Union County VoTech.”
The event began and ended at the JCC, and a number of projects took place there. Groups also headed out to tackle jobs in other venues, undeterred by the rain. All through the day, there were moments when the committee people stopped by to take stock of how the program has evolved and to relish its success.
Derek Weisman, a senior at Watchung Regional High School who is going to the University of Wisconsin to study business, said his involvement has been a way to contribute to the community in ways he might not otherwise have done. On Sunday, he worked in Warinanco Park in Roselle, glad to see the cleaning they did on the stream last year was still yielding benefits. “It’s also been a really good experience organizing something like this,” he said.
Plainfield Dreamer Samantha Perez, who will be going on full scholarship to the College of New Jersey, learned to do a crochet chain stitch while making cord and bead necklaces for needy Israeli children. She said the community service part was not new for her — she has volunteered at various places all through her school years — but the social aspect was really valuable. “Working together on the committee, we got past the stereotypes we might have had about each other and to find out how much we had in common,” she said.
A bunch of teens got involved in making items for Imagine, a center that helps children cope with loss. They made cardboard boxes stuffed with newspaper that grieving youngsters can scream into as loud as they want, and assembled “memory boxes” for the children to decorate.
Others had a great time splattering paint Jackson Pollock-style, creating murals to decorate the walls of AristaCare at Norwood Terrace in Plainfield. They were led by Greta Polonitza, a volunteer from Congregation Beth Israel in Scotch Plains. She had a treat of her own when she recognized Napchen — who used to be one of her students when she taught art at a middle school in Edison. They were both delighted, to be meeting up all these years later as colleagues, helping the teenagers help others.