By Rachel Gross
April 25 is a date that will be etched in the minds of Dallas teenagers forever. That was the day that sixth- through 12th-graders from all facets of the community and the country blended together for J-Serve, a national day of service.
Locally, 250 teenagers participated in various service projects at the Ann and Nate Levine Academy and nonprofit organizations. They serviced Grace Unlimited, Vogel Alcove, the Veranda Preston Hollow, Echad, Sunrise Senior Living, Children’s Medical Center, Jewish Family Service, Tiferet Israel Garden, Mosaic and Child Protective Service.
J-Serve started in 2005, and this was the first year Dallas participated. BBYO Program Associate Tracy Davis, who coordinated the J-Serve projects, said BBYO has done community service similar to this before, but it never included the entire community. She believes it was significant to reach out to teenagers from different organizations.
“It’s important for teenagers to start learning about mitzvot and show the value they have as Jews,” she said. “Getting to know each other and learn about different parts of the community is beneficial. Not only did they see what was going on around them, but [they] did it together.”
J-Serve was locally sponsored by BBYO, USY, ATID, NFTY, Temple Shalom, Tiferet Israel Congregation, Congregation Adat Chaverim, Temple Emanu-El, Congregation Shearith Israel and the Center for Jewish Education of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. It was nationally underwritten by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
In addition to the service projects, Carter BloodCare hosted a blood drive and there was a boys-vs.-girls tzedakah war. The girls beat the boys and the funds collected by both teams, more than $300, will be dispersed by the students of the Jewish Youth Tzedakah Foundation.
Gail Herson, ATID education director, said the objective was to bring a variety of Jewish teenagers from different backgrounds to help a wide range of people. She believes participating in community service will make them better adults.
“They helped people from different sectors of the community — the old, the young, the needy and the homeless,” she said. “Judaism states that we are commanded to give tzedakah and this shows they can have fun doing it. In our small microcosm, we were able to bring them together. They were empowered to take action. An engaged teen is motivated and our goal is to find opportunities for Jewish teens for be involved.”
Merrit Corrigan, a junior at Plano West High School and president of NTO BBYO, was part of a group that had an ice-cream social with residents of The Legacy Preston Hollow. She said she enjoyed talking with the residents and working with other teenagers she hadn’t known before.
“I love working with the elderly and listening to their stories,” she said. “They like our stories, too, and having an ice-cream social with them made their day better. I knew I was making a difference, and sometimes, it’s the little things that make the biggest impact.”
Mitchell Bradley worked on-site at Levine Academy painting flowerpots for Mosaic, a nonprofit community-based organization that provides services to refugees and immigrants who are victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. “The best mitzvah is the anonymous one,” he added.
The day concluded with everyone writing thank-you notes to the organizations they helped. Plans are already in the works for J-Serve 2011 next April.
Nathan Oved, an 11th-grader at Dallas Academy, said he decided to participate in J-Serve to help the larger community and expand his knowledge.
“Helping others made me feel good,” he said. “The Jewish community came together to help the overall community. It was great.”