The following essay on community service was written by Nicky Young, 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.
For my community service project I went to the Hudson Guild Community Center’s SchoolBridge Program, an after school program for underserved children in Manhattan. I spent the afternoon playing music with 12 kindergarten students. I planned to go in, play them an upbeat hello song, give them percussion instruments, separate into groups to work on rhythms, and then play the song together. This plan was almost completely thrown away once we got started.
First, I had everyone tell me their names so I could write them down on name tags and this itself turned into a 5 minute game. Most of the kids had pretty complicated names. They were all trying to spell each other’s names while yelling at me when I got one of their names wrong. It was a lot of fun. After the name game I played them the really quick, rhythmic, hello song and then we gave out percussion instruments.
As soon as Anna took out her djembe a really cool kid with a tiny Mohawk, named Jordan, asked me for it. Jordan had crawled to my side the second we started and he became my assistant as the workshop progressed. He was constantly asking me things and helping me conduct the games. After the instruments were sorted out I just started to play a riff and to my surprise, all the kids just jumped in with rhythms that worked perfectly!
From there on the workshop basically ran itself. After playing a few songs one of the kids screamed “Let’s play freeze dance!” and for the next 7 minutes we played freeze dance with Jordan being the conductor, telling me when to start and when to stop. After that we jammed out on more songs and then I thought we could play a variation of freeze dance that I called freeze “play”. When I stopped the music, they stopped playing their instrument. This was a great game for them because it was competitive, they got to play their instruments and they got to dance. We also had an instrument battle. I split the kids into two groups and then each side played their instruments along to a riff I played. The side that played better won. Of course I couldn’t say one side was better than the other so I had to try to subtly get them to play something else.
So for the hour I was there we basically just jammed on songs I’d written and the children naturally played along. When I had to leave, the kids asked me to come back every Friday. As we were leaving the woman who organized the class for me told me something that made the whole experience definitely worth it. She said that Jordan usually misbehaved and that this music workshop had really calmed him and focused him. The fact that music had a positive effect on this kid was just awesome. It made me totally want to come back and develop a relationship with these kids, especially with Jordan. If music could help him in this way then to be almost like a mentor to him through music would be great. In the situations that these kids are living in, having an older friend to help them could be really great and if I can help Jordan through music that would be incredible.
I also helped to raise money for the Andrew Grene Foundation, which provides educational assistance and other support to the Haitian people. This fund means a lot to me because it was started by one of my mentors, Gregory Grene, a student teacher at Salk. His brother, who had visited our class, was killed in the earthquake while doing community work there. My school had a huge benefit concert to raise money and my band was the opening act. I will be donating a portion of any money that I receive today to this foundation.
I know that having a mentor during tough or easy times can be really helpful. The sense of guidance you can get from someone who’s been where you are in life is priceless and to give this gift to a kid, especially an underserved child, would be amazing.