Julian Gerber

In my family, we all participate in community service. My mom participates in her organizations, my dad in his, and my sister and I help along the way. The ones that I have participated in are the AIDS Walk, giving to the Salvation Army, and a not-for-profit called Rocky’s Refuge.

The AIDS Walk, an annual 10k (6.2 mile) walk in Manhattan, raises money and community awareness for HIV/AIDS. I have been doing the AIDS Walk for the past few years. At first I didn’t do the whole thing, I walked maybe a mile or two then called it quits and went to Starbucks. But these last two years I have done the whole thing and raised more than 100 dollars each time. In the past, I asked my mom why we had to walk, why not just donate and be done with it? The answer is because if you just donate, it seems very distant. You donate and that’s it. But in the AIDS Walk, you are actively participating for a cause. It gives you a sense of communal achievement when you see that it’s not just your donation, it’s tens of thousands of people. By seeing all these people, you get a real sense of the enormity of the issue instead of just believing AIDS is some remote disease that has no impact on the community. What I learned from doing the AIDS Walk is that when you’re trying to accomplish something, you can’t do it alone. Whether you need ten more people or ten thousand more people you have to do it as a community.

Another community service activity I did was donating many old toys and clothes to the Salvation Army. Donating to the Salvation Army is a tradition in our family. Every year we gather our old stuff, put it in numerous boxes, and give it away. Giving away your old clothes and toys is the simplest way to give to charity, but it’s also extremely worthwhile. Every year while I’m packing everything into the boxes, it always seems as if I’m giving away trash that I never bothered getting rid of. But in reality, all the things I’m giving away could potentially bring joy or help clothe someone less privileged than myself. Giving to the Salvation Army taught me not to take things for granted. However, I recently learned that the Salvation Army, as a church, does not support gay marriage. However, the Salvation Army is not only a church, it is a publicly funded charity that receives over 150 million dollars annually of taxpayer money. Therefore, in my opinion, the Salvation Army should not discriminate against anybody because it is the public that is paying part of their budget. This is why, next year, I will be looking into the reliability and policy of organizations prior to donating to them.

Finally, there’s Rocky’s Refuge. Five years ago, my sister had her Bat Mitzvah and her role model was our family friend, Virginia Grant. Virginia has a farm in Roscoe, New York (up the street from our country house) consisting of two dogs, sixteen cats, three horses, a pony, a mule, a donkey, and roughly eighty chickens. All of these animals are rescues. Rocky, of Rocky’s Refuge, is one of Virginia’s dogs who was rescued as a puppy on the side of the road next to a cliff while scrounging for food and water. In 2013, two years after Rocky was rescued, Virginia, with the help of my mom, formed the not-for-profit organization, Rocky’s Refuge. It rescues animals and works towards rehoming them. Since the start of the organization they’ve rehomed: five dogs, several chickens, dozens upon dozens of cats, and even an ox whom Virginia named Blue. Additionally, Rocky’s Refuge spayed and neutered over 100 feral cats, all while continuously rescuing animals from the surrounding community. Their mission statement is “Rescue, Neuter, Rehome”.

Between the costs of animal food, vet visits, and inoculations, the expenses are enormous. That’s where I came in, doing fundraising. For the past few years I ran a stand selling homemade cookies, lemonade, and Virginia’s chicken’s eggs. I then donated the proceeds to Rocky’s Refuge. The stand was at Farm Stock, an annual event in Sullivan County where people are invited to different farms. As part of Farm Stock, I helped make the signs. Additionally, I formatted the Rocky’s Refuge tri-fold brochure on my computer. This past summer, I helped with running a stand at local fairs. As part of the setting up for these fairs, I created the flyers that were distributed there. At each fair, I told people about Rocky’s Refuge and their mission and attempted to get them to donate. I have to admit, asking people for money is a lot harder than it looks and I was not particularly good at it. Lastly, my sister and I alternate in tech support for Rocky’s Refuge social media as well as its website or computer difficulties.

For the past few years I have helped out with Rocky’s Refuge and I will always continue helping out wherever I can. I have decided to donate a portion of my Bar Mitzvah gift money to Rocky’s Refuge to help them along with achieving their mission and to continue doing an amazing job of rescuing and rehoming animals.

One thing that I learned from doing community service is the importance of looking into organizations before donating or providing services to them. It is important to ensure that the organization shares the same values as you do. Another thing I learned is the power of a community. In the AIDS Walk, tens of thousands of people walking together had more of an impact than tens of thousands of people donating alone. Similarly, the work I did at a local fair for Rocky’s Refuge helped the community acknowledge the problem and accept responsibility for it. This sense of community caused people to help out more than people in locations that were further away from the actual community that Rocky’s Refuge helps. This further proves that things can get done faster as a community.