J-Teen Leadership, a program of UJA-Federation of NY, brought together 21 Westchester teens over Veterans’ Day Weekend, November 9-12, 2018, to travel to Philadelphia to participate in meaningful service and learning that focused on poverty issues, including youth at risk, community health care, and food insecurity. Prior to the trip, the teens collected 700 lbs of donated items, including toiletries, school supplies, and clothes, which filled half the bus destined for those in need in the “City of Brotherly Love”.
Upon arrival in Philadelphia the teens got right to work at Cradles to Crayons, an organization that provides essentials for children from birth through age twelve. The teens sorted over 2,000 clothes items and packed 1,100 coats for children in need. Later that evening the teens attended Congregation Rodeph Shalom, for Friday Shabbat services and dinner. There, they were given a tour of the building that is now honoring its 90th anniversary. The evening provided a meaningful way to create community between the synagogue congregants and the J-Teen Leadership teens. Together the attendees stood in solidarity as Jews, as well as in support of another synagogue in a different Pennsylvania city- The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Throughout the weekend the teens provided community service to multiple populations. At Youth Build Philly, the teens met 18 at risk youth and learned about the organization that helps former high school dropouts receive education, job training, and other services. Through the Jewish Relief Agency, J-Teen Leadership teens packed 2,600 lbs of food and provided 90 individuals with boxes of essential food items. At Philadelphia FIGHT, a comprehensive health services organization committed to providing primary care, consumer education, research, and advocacy, the teens learned about the criminal justice system and the concerns of those who spent time in the system and are now released. Finally, the teens wrote over 100 holiday letters to incarcerated individuals and helped to clean up two community gardens. Overall, the teens touched approximately 1,600 individuals throughout the weekend programs.
The teens express the value of the programming best in their reflections of the experiences they had while on the trip: “I think the variety in the projects was extremely beneficial because we were opened to different facets of community service. We dealt with youth, clothing, food insecurity, elderly, community development, teamwork, and creativity.”
Another teen’s response emphasized the importance of celebrating their Judaism while giving back to the larger community: “I would say the most meaningful aspect of the trip would be the fact that this was a Jewish trip. After the events of Pittsburgh, I think it was super important to go out to the community and show them that in spite of the violence that occurred we still give back. Overall just building raises the reputation of Jews.”