Samantha Streit

As a thirteen-year-old, there are not many ways to contribute or make a change in the world. The community service required for my Bat Mitzvah was a way for me to become a more involved member of my community and help make changes. Education and hope are two values of mine, and I was able to put those values into action helping out victims of Hurricane Sandy and working with the Andrew Grene Foundation.

When Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, I wasn’t affected nearly as much as the majority of New Yorkers. Naively, I was excited for a moment that I would be missing school. When I turned the news on, I realized that the impact Sandy made on the areas around New York and New Jersey was devastating. Feeling fortunate because I did not lose anything but school days, I felt that I needed to contribute in any way I could.

My friends and I were looking for a way to help the hurricane victims cope and we found a church that was participating in the effort, located on the Upper West Side, called Riverside Church. This church specifically helped to repair the destruction in Staten Island. For three hours, I packed boxes full of a variety of helpful items for the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. My friends and I packed the boxes with clothing, diapers, toiletries, food, and toys. There were a lot of other volunteers and I enjoyed feeling like a part of a community, working together to help those in need.

That same week, I created a bake sale with some friends in my neighborhood on 76th and 1st Avenue. The moment I woke up, I began baking as many brownies, cupcakes, and cookies as I could to sell that day. People just walked up to us and handed over $20 bills to show support for the cause. My friends and I found a company to match whatever we sold to add to the profits. Together we made $660.41 selling delicious treats, which was matched by a company called Black Rock where my mom’s friend’s mom works. My friends and I were able to raise $1,320.82 for Hurricane Sandy victims. Whether sending items in a box or donating money, I felt that I was able to spread hope.

Another problem I felt drawn to help fix is the poverty and devastation in Haiti. My school, Salk School of Science, works with a foundation called the Andrew Grene Foundation. Andrew Grene was the twin brother of Gregory Grene, who was an assistant teacher at Salk, and after Andrew died in the destruction that ravaged Haiti, Gregory founded this organization in his brother’s name. By helping Haiti, I was able to help my school community come together and make a lasting impact.

The Andrew Grene Foundation does a variety of things to help Haiti and Haitian people. One huge contribution this foundation has made is the Andrew Grene High School in Cite Soleil, one of the poorest and most needy parts of the island. In the last few years, the foundation has helped to supply textbooks to students, has provided scholarships for students who plan to attend college and learn about philosophy, and continues to help sustain education in Haiti. This foundation’s work was a perfect match for me because it strongly relates to my values of hope and education by promoting both. Those who strive to learn, no matter how challenging their circumstances, are benefitting from this work.

To support the Andrew Grene Foundation, I wrote letters back and forth to a few students at the Andrew Grene High School. I didn’t realize when I sent my first letter how profound this correspondence would be. Each letter I received back allowed me to feel appreciative for what I have. The students at the Andrew Grene High School are hopeful and positive, though they have very little. Gregory Grene, the founder, describes these students perfectly, “These students are extraordinary. It is impossible to convey what kind of sacrifice, determination, heroism stands behind every student striving to succeed at this school.”

Additionally, my school organized a sale of t-shirts, tote bags, baked goods, and raffles. I baked some brownies and helped sell items. I also walked around sharing information about the foundation, encouraging people to either buy or contribute. Being a part of this effort made me even more grateful for what I have and helped me realize even more the importance of giving back.

To this end, I will be donating a portion of my Bat Mitzvah money to The American Cancer Society, which is a great organization devoted to finding cures for cancer. This cause is particularly important to me because a close family member of mine is currently suffering from lung cancer.

Seeing the news each day makes us think about all of these devastating problems that challenge people around the world, and learning about people like Gregory Grene, who started his own foundation to honor his brother, helps me realize how much more we can do. When putting it into perspective, a few hours of hard work is just the tip of the iceberg of what I plan to do to help out even more in the future.