The following essay on community service was written by Jolie Elins, 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.
I’ve volunteered at several places for my community service. I have always been interested in animals, so originally I wanted to work at animal shelters, but I was too young for a lot of them and for others they were too far away, so I ended up doing a lot of other things and it turned out to be a great experience.
I’ve always loved to volunteer at the NYC marathon with my mother, and last time I was super excited to be able to help. I walked along the streets passing messages from the Red Cross volunteers to my mother and giving them lunches, while also helping people across the street during breaks in the mass of runners. Towards the end I helped pass out the protein gels to runners and it was a lot of fun. Because these were some of the last runners they weren’t the competitive bunch, and I would sometimes run alongside them for a couple blocks talking to them, because a lot of them had great stories about why they were running, or funny jokes to tell. Some people were a little discouraged or tired, as we were stationed pretty far into the run, so I would make up dances and songs as I handed out the gels and drinks to sort of energize them. It made me feel like I was doing something, made me feel better, watching them smile and speed up as they passed, like what I had done had helped them keep going. I had a lot of fun helping out, especially as I was allowed to do more than I had in previous years, being older and more able. This past year, unfortunately, I could not participate, as there was no NYC marathon due to Hurricane Sandy. This may have stopped me for one year, but this year I’m definitely planning to help again.
For another activity I did get to work one day at an animal shelter. It was during the Martin Luther King day of service, and my half brother and his mother were visiting from Poughkeepsie. We went to an animal shelter in Queens and helped out. We cleaned cages, talked to customers, and played with all of the animals. I especially loved playing with one of the little kittens. She was gray with black stripes and I was immediately in love. The animal shelter was very fun, and I loved the tortoises. There were three in varying sizes and they were named Grande, Venti, and Trenta, after the Starbucks cups.
I also liked to help my old school’s Parent Association. They were having a raffle to raise money, but they were planning for it to be a fifty-fifty raffle, as they had no prizes. Knowing this would result in less money for the school, I decided that next time I would get involved. In eighth grade my school did a raffle to raise money for Red Cross Disaster relief, and I set out to help. I went around the city asking various small businesses if they could donate a small prize for the raffle. I showed them a letter written by my faculty supervisor, Mr. Basso, and received many things. I also got a bunch of friends together and asked them to go to different places when I could not. They came back with a lot of prizes and it was great. I wrote to some bigger companies as well, including the Squishable stuffed animal company. We emailed back and forth before ultimately coming to the conclusion that their prize would not arrive on time, but next time there was a raffle, I should contact them a little earlier and they would be happy to contribute.
The majority of my community service was tutoring. Every other day at school I would skip lunch to stay upstairs and tutor three sixth graders. Their names are Elian, Sierrah, and Omari and I would help them with their homework and go over what they had learned in class that day to make sure each one understood it. I enjoyed making mini tests and then bringing them in, especially because it helped with their learning, so as their ‘Jolie test’ grades increased, I’d get them candy or chocolate. I also liked talking to them, even if it wasn’t math related. After we were finished going over something, I’d help them out with any other classes or if they had problems with friends and it was really interesting and meaningful to me that these kids trusted me and talked to me, especially when I could help them with something they were really struggling with.
I did develop some unconventional methods, besides the food rewards, and the mini tests, like tying Elian and Omari together and to their chairs with a scarf, (it didn’t work, they made up signals to move as one so they could still procrastinate) and hiding Elian’s hair gel until he finished because he insisted gelling his hair would help him with math (this one was actually quite successful). These tactics may not have worked as well as the incentive and the practice though.
Another thing I really liked about tutoring is that I learned more about myself. Watching them and studying the ways they learned and how they could put off their work, I realized that I studied in very similar ways and I definitely procrastinated on my own work. I was able to get better with my own schoolwork by learning about my students. I am still in contact with them. The other day while waiting for the bus, Elian (my first student) sent me a message because he was inside the store across from me and wanted to say hi. We talked some and he asked if I could come back to tutor them, maybe even after school. Since Stuyvesant ends so late, I said I couldn’t but he should feel free to message me if he needs help, and he sent me several sad face emoticons. I really enjoyed tutoring even though I thought I’d be awful at it, and I am very proud to say that all three of them did very well and passed all of their final math exams that year.
All of these activities were awesome and felt meaningful to me. As I did not get to do as much animal volunteer work as I’d like I’m donating some of my Bat Mitzvah gift money to the World Wildlife Foundation to adopt a family of tigers, as well as some to the Camp Onas Camper Aid Fund, as they have helped me several times over the years to be with some of my best friends and create memories that are irreplaceable.