Anath Hartmann | Contributing Writer
Camp is a great way to make memories. Some kids make their summer memories while working on service projects designed to develop leadership skills and make a contribution to the world.
Here are three initiatives that pursue service in a Jewish context.
BBYO Passport: Stand UP Washington, DC
BBYO offers one such set of opportunities for teens. Stand UP Washington, DC, part of its travel-based Passport programs, is a 12-day community service program for students in grades nine through 12 who identify as Jewish. The program focuses on learning about how to eliminate the persistent problems of poverty and homelessness.
Students, who stay on the George Washington University campus during the course of the program, devote their days to a combination of food and meal preparation and delivery, policy meetings and street outreach.
“This experience provides teens the opportunity to experience campus life, tour a major city, meet people from various organizations — both administrators and individuals who receive services — to see the core problems humanity is facing,” said Aaron Robbin, executive director of BBYO Passport. “Teens connect these experiences to Jewish values and BBYO values.”
Talia Sullum, a summer 2017 alumna of Stand Up Washington, D.C., took those values with her when she returned home to Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania.
“This program really made me think about how I can do more to serve my community,” she said. “Going on the trip with other Jewish teens really reinforced the idea of a Jewish community for me. If a [particular activity] was really emotional or thought-provoking, we had each other’s support.”
Program activities include distributing food and supplies to the homeless in D.C.’s Franklin Park, serving breakfast at DC Central Kitchen, hearing speakers from the National Coalition for the Homeless, and Shabbat services and dinner at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue.
Camp Judaea: Tikkun
Last summer, Camp Judaea (CJ) in Hendersonville, North Carolina, launched Tikkun, a program that offers, according to the camp’s website, “service learning, leadership development, and time to enjoy being a camper at CJ” — plus a six-day service trip to Columbia, South Carolina. The program is open to rising 11th-graders.
During the week away, in partnership with the Saint Bernard Project (SBP), a nonprofit that focuses on natural disaster relief and rebuilding, campers stay at the University of South Carolina dormitories and complete 40 hours of community service. They work with SBP to restore the homes of some of families still on the organization’s waiting list for house repair following severe flooding in the area.
Tikkun “offers a balance of service learning in the larger community and being at camp again with all the fun and learning that entails,” said Leah Zigmond, associate director at Camp Judaea.
Sydney Levy, a longtime CJ camper from Dunwoody, Georgia, has already enrolled in Tikkun for this summer and welcomes the chance to do good work in the company of other campers she’s known for years.
“This new program gives me an opportunity to do a special project with my close Camp Judaea friends,” said Levy, 15. “Community service makes me feel like I’m making a difference and [this program will] provide me with leadership skills that will help me in the long run.”
URJ Mitzvah Corps
Union for Reform Judaism Mitzvah Corps, which bills itself as a “Hands-On Social Justice Service Program for Teens,” offers two- to four-week “immersive experiences for Jewish teens to gain hands-on exposure to the most urgent social justice challenges faced by our global communities,” said Jonah Freelander, URJ Mitzvah Corps director of strategic partnerships and development.
Each program — locations range from New Jersey to Costa Rica to Israel — has its own “work focus.”
Campers can choose from eight summer experiences, which include helping support Ethiopian refugee integration in Israel; working to end hunger and poverty in underserved populations in the Pacific Northwest; and participating in clean-water initiatives in Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands. But prospective campers shouldn’t confuse the program with a sightseeing excursion.
“We are not a teen tour shepherding groups of camp friends through a strange land,” Freelander said. “Mitzvah Corps teens come because they care about making a difference in the world, and along the way they create lifelong relationships with peers who share their passion.”
The program is open to teens of all Jewish identities who have completed at least one year of high school. JN