They came, they learned, and they made a difference.
On May 4, close to 250 Chicago-area Jewish teens joined peers from around the world for a meaningful day of volunteering as part of J-Serve 2014, the ninth annual International Day of Jewish Youth Service.
The event was hosted under the auspices of the Jewish United Fund’s Hunger Awareness Project.
This year’s project brought 7th-12th grade students from across Chicago together at the Northern Illinois Food Bank in Geneva, where they spent the day fighting hunger through hands-on service and advocacy.
“Working with teens from all over Chicago to make an impact was one of the most fulfilling things I have done,” said Mallory Sherwood, a junior at Stevenson High School and one of the teen leaders who helped plan the event. “I think we inspired other teens to make a difference, and confirmed our commitment to being instrumental voices in changing our community.”
In addition to sorting through nearly 20,000 pounds of food – the equivalent of 15,718 meals that the food bank will provide to Chicago families in need – the teen volunteers received a crash course on food insecurity in the Chicago area. Educational workshops focused on Judaism and hunger, root causes of hunger and how to be an effective advocate, and how to use social media to make a difference.
The programming was presented by Anshe Emet Rabbi Heather Altman, Rebecca Katz of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, teen leaders from the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago, and staff of the Northern Illinois Food Bank.
“As a teenager, a lot of times you don’t realize there’s hunger in the community,” said Donna Lake, Communications Director at the Northern Illinois Food Bank. “This was a great event to help teenagers understand the challenges that their peers in the community face.”
Internationally, the larger J-Serve program aims to educate teens about the Jewish values of gemilut chasidim, acts of loving kindness; tzedakah, just and charitable giving; and tikkum olam, the responsibility to repair the world, as well as build community and connections across religious and societal lines. The program is the Jewish service component of Youth Service America’s annual Global Youth Service Day and a collaboration of BBYO and Repair the World. J-Serve is underwritten by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, along with support from partner agencies: The Foundation for Jewish Camp, JCCA, Jewish Federations, Jewish Student Unions, Jewish Teen Funders Network, NCSY, NFTY, Rock the Vote, USY and Young Judea.
In Chicago, the local J-Serve program is officially cosponsored by the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago, which is composed of JUF/Federation, BBYO, Bnei Akiva, the Community Foundation for Jewish Education (CFJE), JCC/Chi-Town Connection, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Jewish Student Connection, Jewish Student Union, Moving Traditions, NCSY, NFTY, Or Tzedek, Shorashim, Response, USY, Yachad, and Young Judea.