Over the past year, a group of elementary school girls learned about social justice issues and led community service projects as part of G-RAD (Girls Read and Do), a Jewish book and social justice club for girls in grades 1-4 and their mothers.

Each month, one of the girls — or two sisters, in some cases — picked a social justice theme, selected a book, led a social action project and coordinated guest speakers that fit with that theme.

The program was conceived by Liz Vaisben, the mother of two young daughters, who developed G-RAD as part of the third cohort of the Women’s Leadership Institute, a program of the Women’s Jewish Learning Center in Scottsdale. Vaisben developed this project “because there was so much that I wanted to do to make a difference in the community, and this idea enabled me to take them and synthesize them into one.”

One example is April’s project, led by Zoey and Noa Schneider. The theme was “Asylum Seekers,” so they selected a book about the Exodus for their pre-Passover meeting and invited Eddie Chavez Calderon, the campaign organizer for Arizona Jews for Justice, to share his story about immigrating to the U.S. from Mexico at age 4. For their project, they collected toiletries and made snack bags for asylum seekers arriving in Phoenix.

“G-RAD has been a wonderful experience for both myself and my girls,” said their mother, Sara Schneider. “It has given them an opportunity to be leaders and create their own program, as well as think of others and how they want to spend their lives repairing the world. It has created a beautiful bond between friends and has encouraged this group of girls to stand up, be heard and make a difference.”

G-RAD received support from the NowGen Phoenix Giving Circle, the Women’s Leadership Institute, Gesher Disability Resources and PJ Library.

The program’s closing event was held May 19 at the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus in Scottsdale, where each participant got a chance to present a creative interpretation of what the past year in G-RAD meant to them. These interpretations included posters, a slideshow, drawings and a puppet show.

In their presentation, sisters Alyssa and Briana Levin, whose theme was “Kindness Rocks,” shared their reflections about G-RAD: “When we did all of the projects, we helped out and not only did it make those we helped happy, but made ourselves happy, too. We both felt proud to help.”

Throughout the program, girls received project pins for each project, which they displayed on blue kitty headbands, reminiscent of the pink hats worn during the 2017 Women’s March that symbolized women’s empowerment.

In addition to the above projects, here’s a recap of the G-RAD year, which began in August 2018:

• “Ducky Welfare” by Brianna Raizer: During a Tashlich ceremony before the High Holidays, Cantor Dannah Rubinstein of Congregation Or Tzion taught the girls why it’s important to feed ducks seeds instead of bread.

• “Thanks4Food” by Zoe and Eva Brown: After story time in a sukkah, the girls decorated bags for food donations to Just3Things, a project of Jewish Family & Children’s Service.

• “Kitty Care” by Ella Hoffman: The project included making blankets for cats at Halo Animal Rescue and donating cat food and treats.

• “Food for All” by Ella and Liat Vaisben: In addition to stocking shelves with food at the Harvest Compassion Center, the G-RAD team heard from Mary Jo West, the first female news anchor in the Valley. 

• “Honoring Elders” by Sarah and Rachel Thaler: The sisters coordinated a Hanukkah gathering at Kivel Campus of Care, where the group played dreidel and decorated cookies with seniors.

• “Acts of Loving Kindness” by Madison Kaufman: Representatives from Angel Kids and Angel Mamas shared information about community volunteering opportunities and the group made mitzvah bags for the homeless.

• “Furry Friend Kindness” by Jamison Walker: The project included an animal shelter donation drive and decorating pingpong balls for cats to play with at the Arizona Foothills Animal Rescue.

“I found G-RAD to be an incredible experience and opportunity for my 9-year-old daughter to learn how to practice gratitude, how to be more generous with her time (by volunteering and helping those less fortunate) and to be more comfortable talking in front of a group of peers,” said Glory Kaufman, Madison’s mother. “G-RAD is helping to inspire girls to be confident and discover their purpose in life.” JN

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