Learning through service

Camp Tov 2009 image
Adam Kolof, Jessica Hochberg, Jami Weinstein, Rachel Weisberg, Alex Gordon and Mitchell Doppelt sort cereal into bags at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Altogether campers made more than 2,500 bags of cereal during their two days at the Food Depository.

Kimmy Lieberman loves volunteering. So much so that after attending JUF’s Camp TOV in 2008, the 16-year-old couldn’t wait to come back this year.

“I want to give back to the community,” said Lieberman, a junior at Deerfield High School. “I’m thankful for all that I have, and Camp TOV showed me that volunteering is the best way to give back to others who aren’t as fortunate.”

Like several others, Lieberman had aged out of the program, which brings together seventh- through 10th-graders for a week of community service and learning. After seeing the demand, organizers created a junior counselor program, called Generation S (for service). Lieberman eagerly signed up to help mentor some of the younger participants because she wanted to “help them realize the importance of tikkun olam and that volunteering is fun,” she said.

In all, 92 teenagers took part in Camp TOV’s third year. They learned about tikkun olam and tzedakah and applied their lessons in Jewish values to hands-on activities such as visiting residents at Lieberman Center for Health and Rehabilitation in Skokie, sorting textbooks and school materials at SCARCE, an environmental education center, and putting together food packages at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. During breaks between activities, the teens put together challah covers and Rosh Hashanah greeting cards for Maot Chitim food packages. They also made flash cards for recent immigrants learning English through a joint program of Jewish Child and Family Services and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).

By far the favorite volunteer activities center on interacting with other people, like the elderly at the Lieberman Center and the developmentally disabled adults at CARC, which provides training and job skills.

“Helping others is really important to my family,” said 12-year-old Leor Miller, a seventh-grader at King Lab in Evanston. “My favorite project was visiting the elderly at the senior center. We played bingo, gave them manicures, and sang karaoke. It’s fun to see how people live their daily lives.”

Fifteen-year-old Ariella Tavor, who participated in Camp TOV in 2008 and returned this year, echoed Miller. Despite the short amount of time the group spent at Lieberman, “we saw that we made a difference in someone’s life,” said the sophomore at Stevenson High School. “Just putting a smile on someone’s face made my day, too.”

The camp’s two one-week sessions featured more than hands-on activities. In a time of economic hardship, it was important to teach participants about donating more than their time, said organizer Brett Klugman.

“All week we are teaching about the importance of giving time,” Klugman said. “We thought an important piece of tikkun olam, tzedakah, and volunteering is also donating your money to a cause that you believe in and you think is worthy of receiving such a gift.”

Campers were asked to bring in a portion of their bar/bat mitzvah money or allowance—however much they cared to share. No contribution can be too small, Klugman said. Half of the donated money went to support the Jewish United Fund’s Annual Campaign, while campers divided the other half among five nonprofit organizations, where participants volunteered during the week. 

Campers took the call for tzedakah to heart, donating more than $1,000.

Danielle Beram, a 16-year-old junior at Stevenson High School in Buffalo Grove, said her parents had encouraged her to collect change in a tzedakah box, which she had been doing for two years. Beram decided the Camp’s tzedakah project was the perfect opportunity to donate what ended up being nearly 10 pounds of change to make about $56, including $5 in pennies.

Camp TOV’s Jewish framework is especially attractive, even to those campers who volunteer regularly. For 16-year-old Kevin Somers, Camp TOV also provided an opportunity to “meet more Jewish people” because there are few Jewish teens at his high school in Lake Zurich.

For the participants, the lessons of Camp TOV reach further than the individual projects. About half of last year’s group stayed involved in the community through TOV MTV, monthly volunteering opportunities for teens.

"Being Jewish and doing volunteering with others who are Jewish, makes you feel part of a community,” said Lieberman, the junior counselor. “Everyone’s there for the right reasons and wants to make the world better just like you.”

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