On a wintry weekend in January, teens from Louisville joined nearly 100 other Jewish teens from around the KIO (Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio) region to take a stand for disaster-stricken communities half a world away. They gathered together at the Third Annual Occupy the JCC event, a “lock-in” at the Mayerson JCC in Cincinnati that all BBYO chapters in the KIO region were invited to attend.
The program was designed to educate and inform participants about the plight of the thousands of Haiyan Typhoon victims. In this spirit, each participant donated five dollars to disaster relief in the Philippines, raising a total of $600.
Centered on social action, the teen-led weekend included a Stand Up Program, humanizing the tragedy and promoting awareness. Participants took part in a symbolic gesture, writing down the most important things in their lives on slips of paper and releasing them into buckets of water.
A meaningful discussion followed about how it would feel to lose their loved ones and possessions, as so many did in the typhoon. The program was rounded out with a short film about the catastrophe in the Philippines. Taking part in these simple activities spoke volumes about the young adults’ capacity to connect with individuals who they likely will never meet, living in a country they may never visit.
Building upon the philanthropic backbone of the weekend, Occupy the JCC was also a time for teens to make friends and form connections to the greater Jewish community. A 27-strong group from Louisville joined attendees from other cities around the region, including Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis and Dayton. In addition, the event was the first program of the school year in which eighth graders were invited to attend.
“It was so powerful to see almost 120 teens come together for Occupy the JCC,” noted Abby Solomon, Cincinnati BBYO City Director. “Everyone was interacting, learning, having fun – it didn’t matter that some participants had never been to a BBYO event before. There was such a distinct sense of community throughout the entire event.”
Occupy the JCC not only fostered feelings of togetherness, it also gave many teens the chance to build important leadership skills as they planned each part of the program. Taking ownership of the lock-in was an invaluable experience for the young adults who worked hard to plan a worthwhile event for their peers. From social mixers and specific programs for the girls’ and boys’ chapters to the headlining social action component, the weekend was a success.
“For the past few years, Cincinnati BBYO has hosted Occupy the JCC,” said Maddy Geer, a Louisville native who participated in the program. “This year was my second time attending, and it was so much fun! Not only did I get to see some of my best friends, I got to learn about other things going on in the world, such as the typhoon that recently happened in the Philippines,” she added. “I got to see how they feel and help them by donating a small portion of the $600 dollars our region gave to the American Red Cross. This year was definitely amazing, and I can’t wait to go next year!”
To learn more about BBYO, please visit www.bbyo.org or contact Louisville’s JCC Teen Director Mike Steklof, firstname.lastname@example.org or 238-2774.