As a parent of three “around” B’nai Mitzvah aged children (one a year and a half ago and two coming up in the next year), I am constantly keeping my eyes open for ways for our children to practice the values of Tikkun Olam and Tzedakah, social action and community service. At this crucial stage in their lives, it is so important to introduce them to activities that allow them to help others, give back to their communities, and participate in worthwhile projects in meaningful ways that also allow them to socialize with other Jewish teens.
Fortunately, we live in an area where such opportunities are readily available and plentiful. Synagogue youth groups, religious schools, the Jewish Community Center, and Bureau of Jewish Education offer many programs. Moreover, teens are encouraged to do community service to help their environment, their communities, and those less fortunate than themselves in high schools and clubs.
There are so many reasons why community service is such an important activity in which today’s youth should participate and why we should continually encourage our children to get involved. It instills in the participants a sense of responsibility, as well as teaching them a skill set that will be useful to them later in their lives. Moreover, doing things for those less fortunate feels good to those doing it and also helps to build self esteem and confidence. In addition to teaching tolerance, volunteering deepens kids’ appreciation of their own lives by contrasting their experiences of abundance with the challenging situations that others face. Performing the mitzvah of community service strengthens our community as a whole and fosters a wonderful connection for these teens to their friends, their families, and their communities. Finally, in a strictly practical sense, being involved with service-oriented groups keeps kids engaged in using their free time wisely and helps them earn the community service hours that are required for high school graduation and college applications.
I would like to highlight one such organization and encourage those of you with children in the 7th to 10th grade to consider having them get involved. Teens Love Caring (TLC) is a community organization based on chesed (kindness). Its purpose is to connect teens who enjoy being of service to those in need with organizations who need the support. The TLC program, founded and run by Chabad of Irvine, had a successful first year launch last year and is looking forward to growing the program even more this coming year. There are two separate “tracks”: a 7th/8th grade group and a 9th/10th grade group. Although there is some overlap, each group will also have its own action projects. There are many opportunities for leadership roles in the older group.
With a motto of “Transforming Ourselves, Transforming the World,” this group of service-minded and motivated kids goes out into the community by working on several projects throughout the year, each with a focus on different fundraising and volunteering opportunities to help instill in the teens the values of caring, leadership and giving to others. The action, or, “hand to hand,” projects serve needs in Southern California, while the fundraising components support both local projects and charitable organizations in Israel, with 100 percent of the funds raised going directly to the assigned charity.
The middle school group will be participating in three “hand to hand,” or, action, projects this year. In late October they helped care for the animals at a local shelter that provides a safe haven for hundreds of animals. In January, they will be bringing joy and smiles to the seniors at Heritage Pointe, where the girls will give manicures to the ladies and the boys will play board games with the men. Rounding out the year, in February, they will help preserve the beauty of their environment by picking up litter at neighborhood parks. Throughout the year, the high school teens will also have an opportunity for hands-on projects. In November, they will visit a women’s shelter to deliver blankets that they will be making for them. Later, in January, teens will devote a Sunday afternoon to cleaning up the Corona Del Mar beachfront. Finally, bringing joy to local seniors, they will deliver Purim baskets filled with goodies and treats with a smile and kind word to brighten the day of the elderly.
Both groups will join together at several events to raise funds for two worthwhile projects. In the fall, they will be fundraising for Project Yad B’Yad, which runs “warm houses” for children in high-risk areas in Israel. As the Israeli population grows, many critical services have not been met and there is a lack of critical intervention services for children ages 3 to 7 who are at risk. The “Warm House” (Bayit) offers a safe environment for these children, who are often found wandering the streets after school, providing nutrition, supervision, and counseling, as well as love, warmth, and kindness. The spring project is something closer to home – the goal and mission of Project Simchat Shabbat is to extend the joy of Shabbat to families in need right here in our own community. Every Thursday afternoon, volunteers fill boxes with uncooked food for Shabbat (supplies for a whole Shabbat meal), and the teenagers deliver them to the families who are having financial difficulties. The events planned to enable both groups to raise funds, while having fun and camaraderie in the process, are a car wash, a bowl-a-thon, a challah bake-a-thon, a raffle, and a BBQ in the park.
Two other events planned for the 2010-2011 school year are participation in the annual Menorah Lighting celebration on the first night of Hanukkah at The District and an opportunity to meet and hear first-hand the personal story of a Holocaust survivor. The year culminates with an appreciation dinner for the teens in mid May.
I know as well as anyone that kids today are so busy with school, sports, theater, dance, synagogue events, and youth groups, but I highly encourage you to take a look at the TLC website, which is www.jewishtlc.com. TLC is sure to benefit both the community AND the teens involved. I’m sure that my passion and excitement for this wonderful leadership and service opportunity for our youth shines through in my writing, and it should come as no surprise that Harrison, Jacob, and Michela are participating in this fantastic program!