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Sunday Conversation with … Abby Seidel Teen Expands World through Volunteerism

Read this story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

At 16, Abby Seidel of Dunwoody is an old hand at community service. She volunteers with Project Open Hand, which delivers meals to older and disabled Atlantans. Seidel, along with her mother, walks to raise money for breast cancer research in honor of her grandmother who died from the disease. Seidel’s passion for helping others took her a little farther from home this past summer, to Staten Island, N.Y., to be exact. Seidel joined 100 or so teens from around the country with the recovery efforts still underway following Hurricane Sandy, which devastated parts of the Northeast, particularly in New York and New Jersey. Seidel’s service project, which entailed shoveling mulch, and a lot of it, was part of a summit hosted by BBYO, a Jewish organization for students grades eight through 12. Seidel talked about how this particular service project, while more than 800 miles from Atlanta, hit close to home in other respects and left her forever changed.

Q: Why did this project appeal to you?

A: Even though Hurricane Sandy happened last October, there is still a lot of damage and it is important that we continue to provide relief. One of the main values that BBYO instills is “tikkun olam,” which is Hebrew for “repairing the world.” I jumped at the chance to go to the summit.

Q: What did you do there?

A: This summit was coordinated and led by teens, not by adults, which was really cool. We heard from a panel of speakers who lived through Hurricane Sandy, including a woman who lost everything, including her daughter and husband. Thinking about what people had gone through made me want to help even more and made the work fly by.

Q: Did you know you would be shoveling mulch?

A: We didn’t know exactly which physical projects we were going to work on but it didn’t really matter. It could have been anything and we’d be happy to do it. We met some of the members of the community who thanked us. It touched me honestly because I actually saw people I was affecting. It made me proud to do what I was doing.

Q: What was the point of shoveling mulch?

A: To sprea it in a neighborhood where there was a problem with flooding and sewage. We also helped build a greenhouse that was raised off the ground so the neighborhood would have a food source if there were problems with flooding again.

Q: Did you make any lasting friendships”

A: Definitely. I spent the majority of my summer with a lot of the same kids and we became very close. I still talk with a lot of them very frequently. I am so excited to see them at BBYO’s international convention in Dallas this coming year.

Q: You do a lot of community service. How was this experience different?

A: I could connect with the people. These were people who lived in the exact same kind of neighborhood that I live in. They were living the exact same life I am. In an hour, their whole way of life literally washed away. It could just as easily have happened to me.

Q: How do you respond to folks who say teens are self-absorbed?

A: A lot of times teens are wrapped up in their technological lives, on their computers, texting or tweeting. Honestly, I am on my phone all the time. It is important for teens to break out of the bubble we live in.

Q: Is that where community service comes in?

A: There are people outside your Internet circle who unfortunately don’t have the opportunities you do. It is the responsibility of people who do have, no matter your age, to give back to people who do not have.

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