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The Power of Community Service

Read this story in The Jewish Sound

By Emma Graham

In BBYO, the unspoken rules of high school do not apply. All are welcome, and everyone is made to feel important and included. In this environment, weekly meetings and events become outlets for teens who shy away from raising their hands in class or joining school clubs.

Because individual interests are encouraged in BBYO, members bring their passions to the organization. Students with interests in art, nature, community service, politics, event planning, and so on have incorporated their passions into BBYO through chapter or regional programs. Teens interested in philanthropy create education programs for the Israel Defense Forces and StandWithUs and then hold fundraisers. Chapters volunteer at local homeless shelters and food banks.

The shift in the organization was not initiated by the international leaders or corporate staff. Teens throughout the world have led this transition, but it has been quickly adopted and encouraged by the international leadership. Events such as J-Serve and Dance Marathon, created by BBYO teens for their respective chapters or regions, have become international movements. The teens who created J-Serve embraced volunteer service as a rite of passage in Jewish life and an integral core value. J-Serve has engaged thousands of Jewish teens in meaningful service opportunities globally since its start in 2005.

Dance Marathon Madness, started by a teen in Connecticut named Zoe, uses dance as a mean to raise awareness and funds for Parkinson's research, a cause near and dear to Zoe and her family. Thanks to Zoe's initiative, BBYO chapters across the country are holding four 24-hour dance marathons to raise awareness for causes that teens of the particular community feel strongly about.

Evergreen Region BBYO is carrying both of these initiatives out. Along with teens from other Seattle-area Jewish youth organizations like NFTY, USY, NCSY and JSU, J-Serve 2015 is shaping up to be a meaningful day of service. Volunteer options include working with Teen Feed to assemble toiletries for homeless teens, taking part in the Rainier Beach Preservation project with Seattle Tilth, and visiting the Caroline Kline Galland home for Bingo with the residents. Teens in 6th through 8th grade will assemble care boxes with games and blankets for a local children's hospital.

Finally, as a member of BBYO myself, I invite you to attend our weekly meetings and regional conventions. This organization has allowed me—and countless others—to not only find myself, but to explore what I am passionate about. It is an organization that goes beyond being a Jewish youth group. The BBYO experience allows teens to come into their own. It has been a valuable experience to be able to work with Jewish teens in the area who feel the same way about the Jewish organization they belong to, and we invite all Jewish teens to take part in Seattle J-Serve 2015: Choose Your Own Adventure, which is sure to set the precedent for the impact Jewish teens can make in their communities, now and into the future.

Emma Graham is a senior at Mercer Island High School and the teen coordinator for J-Serve. She holds the position of Evergreen BBYO regional shlicha and supervises the J-Serve 2015 planning committee.

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