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IMPACT: Boston at Brandeis University Blog

Training future leaders on activism, creating social change and building community through exciting cultural activities.

We’re so excited to be able to share all of the wonderful news, tidbits and fun that go on here every summer with even more people. Check back frequently to see the most recent updates!


What About You? A Look at Hebrew Senior Life

Posted on 06/30/2014 @ 05:00 PM

My name is Brandon Nussbaum, and I'm volunteering at Hebrew Senior Life. During havdallah, we discussed our futures in our community service lives after IMPACT: Boston is over. Despite this, the future for the residents at Hebrew senior life is not so bright. They have already lost a majority of their families, and soon, unfortunately, they'll follow their families' footsteps.

Our mission at Hebrew Senior Life is to guarantee as bright of a day and as bright of a future as we can for them. This includes playing games, watching movies, creating artwork and initiating conversations about their past lives. I've personally had experience working with seniors as musical entertainment, but never really communicated with them one on one.

I communicated and made connections with many different seniors this week, some of whom keep surviving in their 90s and even their 100s, some who deal with memory issues such as Alzheimer's and some who always have a smile on their face and behave as if nothing could ever go wrong. I've learned how to build connections with an older generation. I've learned communication skills such as attentive listening and asking appropriate questions. I’ve learned how simple it is to make their entire day just by smiling, shaking their hand or saying "hello." But most importantly, I've learned this: senior citizens may be old and very different from teenagers, but they're just as human.

In society, there should never be a gap between black and white, abled and disabled, or young and old. Senior citizens have so much to provide to our young generation and deserve as much respect as anyone else. Creating a connection with the elderly is just as significant as creating a connection with the person you're currently sitting next to in your circle group.

When I return to my home city of Dallas, I'm going to ensure that I treat all senior citizens with the care, treatment and respect as they deserves.

But it's not just about me. What about you?

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Weekend's Recap

Posted on 06/29/2014 @ 08:00 PM

As the sun fell closer and closer to the horizon, everyone at IMPACT: Boston began preparing for Shabbat. Dressed in our best, we took pictures with one another and walked down the long hill to the Sherman ballroom. The theme for Shabbat was “Past, Present, and Future.” The past represented what us teens have done either this past week at our sites or what we’ve done personally in the past. The present represented what the participants are going to do at their sites after Shabbat. And the future represented what we will do after they return home from IMPACT. It was a wonderful Friday night, filled with laughter and relaxation, thanks to the Shabbat Atmosphere Group. one of the many Shabbat planning groups.

The next morning, everyone got to sleep in a bit later than usual. The teens could either choose from a traditional/meditation service or a nature walk service. Both services went well, and after lunch, we all enjoyed a restful menucha. Teens and staff relaxed, talked with friends, walked around; there was even a rousing game of ultimate Frisbee on a nearby field. Afterwards, the teens got to choose two Shabbat electives from a slew of options like Jews in the Media, Mistaken Identity, and Musical Memory!

Following the Shabbat electives and dinner came Separates, a program where AZA (males) and BBG (females) separate into two different programs. Separates is a program that focuses on the brotherhood for AZA and sisterhood for BBG. The guys’ separates was oriented around facing our problems in our lives and strengthening the bond we have with each other while the girls’ separates focused on stopping the use of the r-word, and “Spreading the word to end the word.” Both went extremely well, and proved very effective. Following a lovely Havdallah service, cheer sessions erupted, truly embodying the passion of AZA and BBG. To end the night, we celebrated in style with a “Peachy Party”, exciting the teens for AZA BBG IC 2015 in Atlanta, GA.

On Sunday, each connection group spent three hours preparing a presentation for Monday, on one of the five texts they studied last week. We thought of new and creative ways to teach our texts to the other teens without simply restating what we already learned. Later, we all piled onto the buses to head into town to listen to the Public Voices in Charlestown. There were four speakers who told their stories of dealing with homelessness. We learned how they came back from their very challenging circumstances and how they dealt with their life choices. Once that finished, we all headed to Harvard Square and enjoyed the evening there.

The first week of IMPACT: Boston is done and we only have a few days left. We have done some incredible things at our service sites and learned a lot, but we’re still not done yet. Still, there’s a lot left to do and a lot of fun left to be had. IMPACT has been fortunate to have an amazing group of participants this year, along with an amazing staff.

Cameron Smith (North Texas Oklahoma Region), Teen Coordinator 

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Breaking Down Misconceptions at Charles River Center

Posted on 06/27/2014 @ 06:00 PM

When we first got our site assignments, I was upset, terrified, and I wanted to switch. And now, I would have rather done nothing else. At the Charles River Center we worked with people who had developmental disabilities. Notice how I wrote that "people with disabilities." This was the first thing we learned before we even went to Charles River Center; they are people first and the condition comes second. We made lists of words we should and shouldn't say when referring to people with disabilities. Apart from the R-Word, we said that words like psycho, crazy, and handicapped were all to be avoided. Somebody's probably wondering why handicapped isn't okay so I'll give a quick explanation. In the past, people with disabilities weren't given jobs and resorted to begging for money with a cap in their hand. Cap in hand. Handicapped. Yeah, it's messed up.

After we had an orientation meeting with a staff member, we went to where they took care of kids of ages 6-21. Each of these kids have qualities that made them unique. Not just the disabilities they live with but also their personalities. Some were verbal, some communicate using their hands, and one points at a letter chart with a stick taped on to her hat. Despite these challenges, they are all some of the most loving people I've ever met. The staff and the kids have a true connection that you can't always see but you can clearly feel. The staff communicate with some of the kids and interpret what they want or need. There are true friendships between the staff and the kids.

During our three days at the kids section, each of us made connections. Isaac and I became friends with an amazing girl. When we walked into the room the first day I saw E in her wheelchair drooling onto a cloth. I assumed she wasn't very present and couldn't really understand what was going on. I was so wrong. Later on that day, a staff member gave her a hat with a plastic stick taped on the front, then held a card in front of her. E started to point to letters by tilting her head slightly and touching each letter with the stick. This is when we learned E was completely aware and remembered everything. She remembered my name as well as Isaac's. She was funny, sassy and liked us both. This obviously caused a rivalry between Isaac and I over E's affection and each day we went in trying to have a good time and make her day a little bit better.

We also went to the adult work program. This is where my perspective on people with disabilities changed forever. Here I met a girl, T. On our first day in the work program, we got paired up with someone in the program and had to write our abilities and differences. T was incredible. She plays pretty much every sport including skateboarding and is full of energy. She's excited and really fun. We went to Charles River Center with the goal of making a connection with the people there. I feel like I did a little bit more. I made a friend. Whenever I see T she smiles and runs over to say hello. She is always so excited and so happy to see everybody and loves making friends.

When we first found out about our sites, I was scared I would say the wrong thing and offend someone. Now I realize that saying anything is enough. I don't worry about offending T. I talk to her like I do my friends because she is one. No, she isn't normal, she's better. T and everybody else at Charles River Center don't tell lies, they don't hide their emotions, they do what they want to and express their feelings and emotions regardless of the situation. This is humanity at it's best. They are enjoying life without social barriers. They aren't bound by the limitations of society and it's a beautiful thing to see someone be happy and truly appreciate being with people. When I go to Charles River Center I'm not afraid, instead I am awestruck at the joy these amazing people find in simple companionship. A smile means the world to them and so does a wave or a simple "hello." During discussion after the trip today, I think Samantha (Madricha) summed them up nicely: "They're perfect."

Ryan Wiessman, North Texas Oklahoma Region

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Jewish Vocational Services

Posted on 06/25/2014 @ 08:00 PM

For the past few days I have been doing community service at Jewish Vocational Services (JVS). JVS is an incredible organization that provides services to refugees. We are working with two English classes. At first, I was nervous that I would not be able to communicate with the refugees. I found out that I was completely wrong about that. As soon as I was partnered with Stacy* a woman from Ethiopia, we started having a great conversation. I learned that she speaks Amharit as well as some Arabic and Italian, and she taught me about how Eritrea broke apart from Ethiopia while she was living there. Stacy was very interesting and friendly.

What really amazes me about JVS is its devotion to helping the refugees become self-reliant in a new, strange country. The classes teach not only English, but also life skills and skills for the workplace. Refugees have only eight months from the time they land in American to get a job. Without the help of JVS, the refugees would probably have no idea what to do. I know I would be very scared and confused if I was alone in a country where I didn’t even speak the language. JVS really cares about helping the refugees succeed.

While incredibly impressed by the work of JVS, I’m even more amazed by the refugees themselves. Despite the confusion and vulnerability I imagine they are feeling, each of them is obviously very curious and eager to learn. They come to class wanting to know more so they can achieve success in this country. It’s really given me a new perspective on how to approach life. Although I am the one teaching them English, they are teaching me too. I can’t wait to continue volunteering with them.

By Rachel Brill, South Jersey Region

*Name changed to protect the identity of the JVS student.

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The Pleasant Surprises of Medicine Wheel

Posted on 06/25/2014 @ 07:00 PM

On the first day when we were divided into groups and informed about the site, we all developed our own unique ideas on what to expect. I personally envisioned an empty plot of land that we would be transforming into a public park. As the bus pulled into the parking lot on the first day of service, we all were mildly confused. The site was a forest-like environment with a small path winding through the trees. As we explored the path, we discovered several pieces of artwork and poetry that had been created by the people of Medicine Wheel. The pieces were three-dimensional and provoked strong emotions. The way that the beauty of the natural world's intersected with the individual art projects was astonishing.

The next surprise came about when meeting the man behind the magic, artist Michael Dowling. When Michael arrived to the area, which he nicknamed "No Man's Land," he began by giving a history of the site. Starting from Native American inhabitation, he described the progressive history of South Boston while orienting us about the people in the program. The way Michael spoke about the kids immediately caught my attention. He viewed the people of the program as "outspoken" teens that simply found misfortune in their lives. Michael has continuously shed wisdom upon all of us with his intriguing conceptual thoughts and questions. One thing that stood out in my mind was when he said something along the lines of "when a Caucasian gets addicted to a drug, they get sent to rehab. But when an African American gets addicted to a drug, they go to jail." This statement, along with numerous others by Michael, made me ponder societal trends that I have never considered before or thought to question.

The final surprise occurred when first encountering the teens in Medicine Wheel. Every teen that I met was incredible. Through conversing, I discovered that the teens managed to overcome many significant and difficult events in their lifetime, which made them strong emotionally as well as wise beyond their years. Conversation topics ranged from favorite movies to dreams of the future to the struggles of growing up. One specific connection I made was with a young man named Love. We immediately clicked when we discovered that we shared a passion for music. It was evident that these teenagers that we worked with were special. They are beginning to escape from the gangs, drugs, and violence that was predestined for them and are starting to live their own lives and have their own aspirations. Even in the first few days, it is clear that these teenagers will have a strong impact on our lives and perceptions.

Michael, Medicine Wheel, and now Impact Boston teens are working on "No Man's Land" in the hopes of inclusion of everyone no matter their socioeconomic condition, race, religion, and physical ability. Although the cleanup and preparation for the pavement of the path is a tedious process, the experience is extremely rewarding. No longer will this area in the community be a location of illegal actions such as substance consumption and violence, but rather an area where the community can gather to admire the art and hear the voices of these incredible teens.

Zachary Alter, Connecticut Valley Region

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