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AJSS brought 17 to Louisville for summer of community service

Group partnered with YouthBuild and others, lived at KI, used JCC facilities

[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]

For the third consecutive year, the American Jewish Society for Service (AJSS) has chosen to send a delegation of high school students to Louisville to spend the summer doing community service work. For six weeks, 17 teens and four staff members lived in the preschool classrooms at Keneseth Israel Congregation, showered and swam at the Jewish Community Center. Five days a week, they did community service projects and in the evenings and on the weekends they enjoyed special programming.

Louisville team Co-Director Meredith Levick explained that AJSS has a strong partnership with YouthBuild, and in the course of the summer, the volunteers did a number of projects from gardening to construction to demolition. They also created educational programs for local children. On garden day, the AJSS volunteers taught young children about the plants in the garden and on chicken day, they visited the coops on the property.

The volunteers also worked in the community garden in the Shawnee neighborhood and at soup kitchens at both YouthBuild and St. Vincent de Paul.

Levick said another reason they like to come to Louisville is the richness of the community. The close knit network of synagogues, the richness of the Jewish cultural scene, the breadth of the interfaith network and the many opportunities the city offers for recreational and educational programming all contribute to the program’s success.

“The community at Keneseth Israel embraced us warmly,” Levick said, “and we’ve appreciated their hospitality.”

The volunteers are teens from across North America, and even beyond. This year’s group included staff members from Canada and a volunteer from the Dominican Republic.

Sarah Barth, a 16-year-old junior from Teaneck, NJ, said she wanted to do something meaningful during the summer. “Why not do something to make a change in someone else’s life?” she asked. She discovered AJSS in a Google search and she was  very happy with her choice.

One program she particularly enjoyed was spending a day at YouthBuild with some Iraqi teens. The two groups discussed changes they would like to see, and they did an art project together, “because with art, there are no boundaries and everyone can participate, no matter what language they speak.”

She also enjoyed an interfaith conference AJSS did with Interfaith Paths to Peace, because she had the opportunity to learn about other religions.

Barth also recruited her friend, Raquel Greenfield, from Paramus, NJ, for the program. “I was surprised by how much I loved it,” the 16-year-old said. She liked getting to know the community and the people. She described the summer as an “incredible experience” and plans to continue to do community service work when she returns home.

For her, preparing and serving food in a soup kitchen was a highlight of the summer and very satisfying.

Sally Rifkin, a 17-year-old senior from the Boston area, wanted to do something Jewish this summer where she could hang out with friends “without the camp experience.” AJSS was a natural choice because her sister had participated in the program three years ago and “had an amazing experience” in North Carolina.

She particularly enjoyed working in the community garden that services a local fresh stop. Working there, she said, “made it seem like I was giving back.”

David Lalo, a 15-year-old from the Dominican Republic, wanted to spend his summer helping make the world a better place. He seemed to enjoy the entire experience.

While he was working in the soup kitchen, Lalo enjoyed preparing the food because he knew it would be eaten and that would help someone get through the day. Later, on the clean up detail, as he washed each dish, he would tell himself, this represents “another meal someone was able to eat today because of us.”

When tasked with a construction project, Lalo enjoyed rearranging the bricks into a structure and seeing the change.

“I love Keneseth Israel,” he added, “because of the people there.” He regards it as his second home.

When someone chooses AJSS, he said, “you need to want to be here and to work hard, but you get so much out of it.” He highly recommends the program.

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