The following essay on community service was written by SZ, 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.
Though I wasn’t always familiar with the term ‘community service,’ in fact, it’s something I’ve been doing for quite a while! Perhaps I hadn’t thought of it as a ‘service’ because I enjoyed it very much.
The first community service activity I recall was in 5th grade. I volunteered to skip my recess, and instead read books to kindergarten children who were having a harder time with reading. This was enjoyable and satisfying because I got to both spend time with cute little kids, while also improving their reading abilities, and helping them to get back on track academically.
That following summer was the first (of three) which I spent volunteering at La Escuelita, again helping with little ones, this time as an assistant teacher. La Escuelita is a relatively new Upper West Side preschool, created by two local mothers, who were determined to provide bilingual education for their own children. My own preschool, the Pushkin Academy for Russian Heritage, was a Russian program created under very similar circumstances. Luckily, I also attended the La Escuelita summer program, and my brothers then attended their preschool. While volunteering at their summer program for the past few years, I have played with the kids, read to them, and helped them learn and accomplish daily life tasks — all in Spanish.
Because learning languages has been so essential to me and is such a valuable asset, I think it’s important that more children are immersed in foreign languages from a young age. Studies have shown that people who are multilingual have better critical thinking skills, and suffer less from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in life. These are just a few of the many benefits. As such, it’s an even more rewarding experience to know that I am not only helping to teach these kids another language, but also helping their futures.
My third experience with community service was with our local Block Association. Each spring, a small group of neighbors gathers to plant flowers in the tree pits on our block, to beautify our neighborhood and enhance our community’s experience. Besides providing a needed service to my local community, gardening has long been a meaningful hobby in my family. Though I never knew my maternal grandmother, I have heard many stories about her, and my name Sheyla (with an e!) was after hers, ‘Sheryl’. Apparently, she used to spend all her free time planting her vast yards, so much so that there was always dirt in the cuffs of her jeans, and her fingers were marked by ‘permadirt’! (which was the dirt that permanently collected so deep into the rough cracks along the edges of her fingers that it rarely got washed out.) Now, my own mother loves to continue her mother’s hobby as best she’s able, despite living in the city! She takes pride in planting our front stoop and tree pit long before all the neighbors, so that we can have the longest possible flower season. As for me, I also enjoy the beautiful flowers a lot (though the dirt, not as much), and I’m looking forward to more planting again next spring!
All in all, helping my community, by working with children and gardening, has been very rewarding. These experiences helped me to better appreciate these jobs when they’re done by others. Additionally, I got to feel what it’s like to help others, and to provide a needed service. I plan to continue volunteering as I get older, and was excited to learn that at my new high school next year there is a ‘community service club’, where I’ll get to spend time helping others while working with like-minded students. After my Bat Mitzvah, I look forward to choosing an organization that supports my values, where I will donate a portion of my gift money.