The following essay on community service was written by Benjamin Bottner, a middle schooler, enrolled in City Congregation’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. Students spend a year and a half researching their heritage, values and beliefs, and write on a Jewish subject of their choice, their major project; they also perform 13 hours of community service, and write about it. An example of this component can be seen below. The process improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as their self confidence and overall maturity.
As part of the Bar Mitzvah project, I am required to do community service. Leading up to the Bar Mitzvah I have done many small community service projects. Over the years I have participated in the Martin Luther King Day of service. The one project that stands out for me was when I worked in a soup kitchen in upper Manhattan preparing and serving food to mostly homeless people. I talked a lot to the Vietnam War vets and wondered how someone who had served their country was now homeless. On one of my trips to Israel I volunteered at a small English speaking daycare center for young children. I read books, played games, helped with projects, and taught the kids how to make paper airplanes. After Hurricane Sandy, my school class went to a church in Ft. Greene Brooklyn and helped out with the relief effort. I packed boxes into trucks, prepared sandwiches, and sorted clothing. I volunteered on my own at this church a number of times before and after I went with my class.
Last winter, every Monday for six weeks, I volunteered in a first grade classroom in my school. I helped both the kids and the teachers. I supported the kids with their projects at free time, guided them to resolve social issues, helped teachers pass out snack, and organized the children’s homework folders. While everyone was packing up, I swooped in to lend a hand with getting on mittens, coats, and hats, and also get that runaway piece of paper into a kid’s backpack. I even started a little club about airplanes. I feel I made a positive impact on the class. I think what I got out of this experience was the joy of helping others, and bettering my school community. There were rough parts, where it was difficult, but overall I had a wonderful time.
My most recent community service project was at Bushwick City Farms in Brooklyn. Bushwick City Farms is a small community farm that has a chicken coop, beehive, and a large array of vegetable planters. Its core mission is to educate people in the community about sustainable living and eating. As you will soon know, I hatched and raised seven chickens. They now reside at Bushwick City Farms. I try to go every Sunday to visit my chickens and help out where needed. Mostly, I have helped collect eggs, cleaned the grounds, made sure the chickens had enough water and turned compost.
There is one project I am working on for them that sticks out for me. I am making the farm an Arduino operated, motion sensor security camera. After one of my chickens got hurt, I proposed the idea of a security camera. The people at the farm agreed and decided it would not be a bad idea to put a camera at the entrance. This got my gears turning and I went to work designing a camera. As of this writing, I have completed the code. It still needs to be edited and we have had many discussions about the best place to mount it.
I plan to donate a portion of my Bar Mitzvah gifts to Bushwick City Farms and to the Mercy Ship Foundation. They use hospital ships to deliver free health care to those in the developing world.
These are a few examples of my community service. But am I done with community service and hopefully bettering the world? No. For me, community service takes me beyond myself, to realize that there are others in need of a hand. When I was working in the soup kitchen, the feeling of being part of a greater good was amazing. I’m really glad and grateful to have had these experiences. I also realize that community service is a very important contribution, and I hope to do more.