The following essay on community service was written by Lana Schwartz, 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.
When I thought about what community service means to me, I wanted to do something that was related to my interests. The first thing I thought of is something with animals, like working at shelters or some activity that involved singing. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a place that allowed volunteers younger than thirteen to help at animal shelters. But we did find something that had to do with singing.
When I was living in Los Angeles, I joined an a cappella group called Octapella because there were eight of us. Our goal, which we achieved, was to sing at senior centers in Santa Monica. We practiced for eight weeks on the weekends for about two hours each week.
It was really enjoyable getting to see all the smiles on the seniors’ faces and getting to know that I helped provide entertainment for them. Some of them were wheelchair bound, some very sick and some homebound. They were all clapping along and for that time, they seemed to forget about their troubles. I didn’t realize how good it would feel to help them enjoy their day. It’s definitely something I would like to do again.
Another activity I did was go to the Women’s March in January of this year. Let me just say it was for a great cause that I definitely support one-hundred percent, but I learned that I do not have great tolerance for being stuck in the middle of a crowd of people who are much taller than I am for a long period of time. In the future, I would probably not go to marches, but I would support causes that are important to me in other ways that are maybe not as crowded. It was really powerful to see all the women and men and kids standing up for what they believe in with signs that expressed their feelings. There was also a wave of cheers that started from the back of the crowd and went all the way to the front. It was amazing to see people pulling together as a community.
As I was looking for other community services, I found out that some of my friends at my school had started a charity drive. I wanted to be a part of it, not just because I had to do it for my Bat Mitzvah, but because it also seemed fun. We supported three causes: St. Jude’s Hospital, The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation and The Vascular Birthmark Foundation. At first, The Vascular Birthmark Foundation wasn’t part of the plan, but then I asked them if we could add it because I was born with a vascular birthmark. For those who don’t know what this is, I had what’s called a Complex Hemangioma above my right eye. This was a non-cancerous tumor that started as a red dot, but by the time I was three months old, was the size of a golf ball. And on a baby’s head, that’s pretty big. My parents were told that if they didn’t remove it, I could go blind in my right eye. I got the tumor removed and “here I am”. It’s a really important cause to me and it meant a lot to me to represent it. There are some people who can’t afford to have surgeries so I wanted to raise money to help them.
The first week we did the charity drive was so much fun and we made seventy-four dollars and twenty-five cents. We each decided on some items that we would bring from home to sell during lunch. I brought some clothes, some books, drinks, and I made both gluten free and regular cookies. We decided to start doing raffles to raise more money and made seventy dollars from that effort in the first week. We did it for a few weeks at school.
It made me realize how important giving back to the community is and how much fun it can be to do it. I will continue to look for opportunities to work with my friends to raise money for causes.
I plan to donate a portion of my Bat Mitzvah money to The Vascular Birthmark Foundation. The money will go to helping those who may not be able to afford surgery or travel.