JUF and Goldman Sachs team up for second volunteer project

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Volunteers make a pyramid during a team-building exercise.

This summer, 23 Goldman Sachs employees substituted their business garb for t-shirts and shorts to spend a fun-filled day at JCC Elaine Frank Apachi Day Camp under the JUF Tikkun Olam Volunteer (TOV) Network project.

This project was consistent with the firm's distinguished Community TeamWorks (CTW) volunteer program, which gives employees the opportunity to offer their time and services to the community one workday each year. Established 15 years ago, it now boasts thousands of volunteers worldwide.

2012 is the second year Goldman Sachs has joined up with JUF. Last summer, CTW volunteers spent a day biking, fishing, and exploring Shedd Aquarium aside physically disabled children. In accordance with TOV's mission of tikkun olam, healing the world, the inaugural project made a difference in the campers' lives while also paving the way for a long-lasting partnership rooted in volunteerism.

This year, Goldman Sachs workers were paired with children, ages 6-17, of Mt. Sinai Hospital's Under the Rainbow therapy program. Under the Rainbow evaluates and treats childhood and adolescent psychological disorders and mental issues. Its staff, six of which were present at Apachi, provides a range of outpatient services such as group, individual, family, art, play, and Tae Kwon Do therapy as well as case management services that address the numerous disorders impacting youth in Chicago neighborhoods. The therapeutic practices teach self-control and concentration and allow children to discuss or reconstruct situations negatively affecting their lives.

A beneficiary of JUF, Mt. Sinai coordinated with TOV and Goldman Sachs for last year's project. "JUF is tremendous," said Dr. Richard Macur-Brousil to the volunteers during the program's orientation. Coordinator of Under the Rainbow, Macur-Brousil is also Director of Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health at Mt. Sinai. "I'm not Jewish, but I believe in their mission. I'm psyched for the kids, I can't wait for them to get here," he added.

Under the Rainbow campers were equally ecstatic about getting started. For these children subject to poverty, domestic and sexual abuse, neglect, and neighborhood violence, the day at Apachi proved to be an out-of-their world carnival of delight. They were able to relax, play, and have fun in a completely safe environment, a luxury many of them had never enjoyed in their young lives.

Smiles could immediately be seen on campers' faces as they kicked off the morning with a series of team building activities. These included using teamwork to lift tennis balls with ropes and guiding blindfolded partners through a minefield of cones and clothespins. The merriment carried into the afternoon when the group cavorted in Gateway to Science, a hands-on, science-based jungle gym complete with a lithopone, sun dial, and other exhibits that encourage fun in learning. Arts and crafts, swimming, and basketball concluded the day. Commenting on the experience, an Under the Rainbow clinician said, "It was wonderful to see them just being kids today.

Volunteers enjoyed themselves as much as the campers. They didn't hesitate to decorate flower pots and tote bags, nor did they pass up the opportunity to start a camper-volunteer pickup basketball game. "It was so great to see the kids interact and have fun," one volunteer said. "I had a great time and this has been a memorable day for me."

The event brought together campers and volunteers alike. "I didn't know half the people in Under the Rainbow and now I know everyone," said one child. A CTW volunteer similarly voiced appreciation for the connections made: "I have 20 new friends now." When it was time to say goodbye, an abundance of hugs broke out from the group.

Apart from being a fun get-together, the project had a profound effect on those involved. During one team building activity, kids and volunteers asked questions to get to know one another. One question posed was, what is your favorite place to go in the world?  One child replied, "This is my favorite place."

The Tikkun Olam Volunteer (TOV) Project matches people wanting to donate their time to others in need with Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation affiliated agencies and with community service projects that need volunteers. For more information, visit http://www.juf.org/tov/.

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