The following essay on community service was written by Alexander Kol Harris, 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 becoming a Bar Mitzvah, I was asked to do at least 13 hours of community service and to reflect on the work I did: what I expected it would be like, what I did and how it actually turned out, whether I would do it again and recommend it to others, what I got out of it, and how I put my family’s and my personal values into action.
The first activity that I participated in was an independent TED Talks event at my school. I expected it to be boring, and that no one I knew would be there and I would just feel lonely for a few hours. Fortunately, that was not what happened. There was one other 7th grader at the event, and I was able to start up a conversation with him and no longer felt lonely. Together we hung signs and painted the stage with Ted Talks’ signature red circles. The work went faster than I expected. While that event was for HUNTER students only, I would recommend similar events to students at other schools, as they are a great way to help your school and make new friends. This was my first time doing community service, and what I got most out of this event was learning that community service does not have to be a boring and painful experience and can be fun, as long as you enjoy your work, or if you are working with a friend. The work at this event was certainly not as strenuous as others, so it would be hard for me to say that I put the value of “hard work” into action in this instance, but I do think I applied the value of “friendliness” in my attitude towards my fellow volunteers.
The next activity was for Make-A-Wish, at which I helped set up for a holiday event. Since this time my parents were joining me, even though I expected the work to be menial, I still thought I would have a good time. That was almost exactly what occurred; however, there were no children, but I actually found the adults to be friendlier and more outgoing than some children at my previous experience, which was an interesting surprise. I found the coordinators to be friendly as well, further contributing to the event’s joyous vibe. The work I did was still boring, consisting of some not-so-heavy lifting, creating signs, and unfolding paper, but I was able to easily push past the boredom when joking with my parents. I would definitely do this activity again and recommend it due the good time that I had. I learned that not only could community service be enjoyable with friends, it could also be enjoyable with family, and “family’ was the value I applied at this event. I also think that the value of “hard work” was applied, and the value of “friendliness” definitely was.
My third experience was the American Cancer Society’s annual Breast Cancer Walk in Central Park. I had very few expectations; I had no idea what work I would be doing or who I would be doing it with. I set up tables, and passed out donated natural deodorant intended for finishers of the walk, with my parents. Only one deodorant stick was intended for each finisher, but some people, including those who clearly had not participated in the walk, took more than one. Veterans of previous walks informed us that this was not uncommon, but still pitiful. Hundreds of people were also raiding the adjacent Kettle Chip booth, unable to show any self-control when free samples were at stake. This event informed me about humanity’s broad moral spectrum. I worked alongside adults who volunteered on a cold fall day, on a weekend, for no reason other than to assist the progress of an event meant to benefit people with breast cancer. Yet at the same time, I also witnessed people taking advantage of the volunteers. Still, I would recommend this event. The volunteers are generally friendly, helpful people, and if you can look past the bad behavior of others, you can feel like you contributed something meaningful and be able to appreciate the significance of the event. I did not work very hard, so I think the main values I applied were “friendliness” and “family.”
My final community service work was preparing a meal for hungry people at the Manhattan Church of Christ on Martin Luther King, Jr. day. Since the volunteers were coordinated by HUNTER, I expected there would be some people I knew and that I would have a good time. Along with my parents, there were others I knew, and with them I set up tables and chairs, made brownies, and made signs relating to MLK day. It was well organized and efficient and the coordinator’s directions were quite clear, as they had done this before. It wound up being quite an enjoyable experience. I would recommend this event to others, even if they will not know anybody who attends it. I think it would be easy for them to make friends, and I think its efficiency would also make it enjoyable and meaningful. I think that helping people who are not as fortunate as I am gave me an appreciation for the things I have and made me want to help the less fortunate in the future. This event also allowed me to experience the values of “friendliness” and “family.”
All of the events involved the value of friendliness, and that makes a lot of sense. When you have a lot of people working together towards one goal you need those people to be cohesive or work will almost never get done. A common way to achieve cohesiveness is through friendliness, which is what happened at all of the events I went to. While they were all meaningful, I think my first, the TED Talks, was the least meaningful: the talks were educational, but they were performed for an already well-educated group of students and teachers, and the effect was likely not as important as the other events. The other events brought help and resources to those who needed it, not those who wanted it, which is what I think made them more meaningful. The Manhattan Church of Christ brought food to the hungry; the breast cancer walk brought money and awareness to needed research, and Make-A-Wish brought joy to those who may not have had it otherwise.
In recognition of the good work these and other charitable organizations do, a portion of the gift money I may receive will be donated to charity.