BBYO Summer Blog
Thanks for a great summer Impact DC!
Food and Friends
When I think of what I value most in my life, I think of how grateful I am to have my family, friends, and the food we share together. What happens when life throws you a curveball and what you used to value the most suddenly becomes what you wish for the most? Volunteering at Food and Friends opened my eyes to how lucky I truly am. The mission of Food and Friends is to foster a community caring for men, women, and children living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-challenging illnesses by preparing and delivering specialized meals and groceries in conjunction with nutrition counseling. Food and Friends serves over 1.2 million free meals a year to their clients. This organization currently has 55 staff members, and 12,600 active volunteers. With numbers like these, it is no wonder why Impact: DC chose this organization as a service site. Whether we were filing paperwork or packaging groceries, every job we did would make an impact on the life of someone who we will never meet. In Judaism, there are the Maimonides’ Eight Levels of Charity. The second greatest level of charity is to give to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from whom he received. Over the past ten days, we performed this mitzvah over and over. On the last day, it set in; every task we had completed, ever laugh we shared, and all those early mornings made a difference in the life of a stranger. God gave me this life to recognize and appreciate all that I have been given.
A lot of things about Washington D.C. can be intimidating. Imposing marble buildings, a constant stream of people in power suits, and the knowledge that you are in one of the most powerful cities in the entire world are just a few things that can make a teenager nervous. Not to mention I was being asked to walk into one of those huge buildings, find my way through those crowds of people and actually voice my opinion without fidgeting. I felt nervous. In short, I was scared. This was a chance to voice my opinion on a much larger scale than I had ever done before - this wasn't my AP Government class and this wasn't a heated family debate. I had the opportunity to share my beliefs and potentially impact not only the direct area that I live in, but the country as a whole. It wasn't something I wanted to mess up.
The good news is that I found my way through the building, didn't run into any important looking women or men, and I didn't fidget (at least, I didn't fidget too much). I spoke with Representative LaTourette's legal assistant about my views on the upcoming Farm Bill. Turns out, the Representative shares my views, so it wasn't so much an argument as it was a conversation. I even ended up meeting Rep. LaTourette and taking a picture with him - definitely not something that happens everyday! He asked me where I was looking to go to college, and when I mentioned the University of Michigan (his alma mater), he said, and I quote, "Don't be afraid to shoot me an email...I know some people!" Yes, it's very unofficial, but nonetheless - that's crazy, right? He was so kind, along with the rest of the staff present in the office. They handed out their business cards and encouraged us to keep in touch, so that one day - hopefully in the very near future - an internship might be available.
All in all, it was an amazing day. I'm thankful for all the opportunities Impact DC has given me - and I hope this is only the beginning of my adventures on Capitol Hill. Sari Jackson, Cleveland, OH
Metro Teen Aids, Exploring DC, and Lobby Prep
Yesterday was definitely one of the most exciting days we’ve had here at Impact DC! In the morning, we went to Metro Teen Aids, an organization dedicated to supporting young people fighting HIV/AIDS through education, support, and advocacy. We sat through a presentation about safe sex practices and played trivia games to go over what we learned. Afterwards, we took the metro to Chinatown where we were able to have a few hours of free time exploring a new part of D.C.! A lot of us got sushi, went shopping, and even explored some of the local museums in the area. We came back to UMD and finished preparing for our lobbying adventure on the Hill. I never realized how much information you needed to find just to put together a 15 minute presentation! I was so nervous about meeting with my senator but, all in all, everyone’s presentations sounded great and everyone was so put together. We are also busy preparing for Shabbat and so we can make this weekend really something special. I can’t wait to see what happens over these next few days! Liz Roseman, Birmingham, AL
Today Impact DC participants attended one of three informational meetings: AJWS, NCH, and J-Street. At those meetings we learned about the organizations and their missions. More importantly, these groups taught us about current US legislation that relates to their organizations. Today serves as a preview and platform for the lobbying we will be doing Thursday at Capital Hill. Tomorrow, we will go to our service sites for a few hours of volunteering. Our group works at Bright Beginnings. It is a pre school for families in transitional housing. We spend our days in classrooms and in turn as role models for the 5 month- 5 year olds. It's been a great experience thus far and we can't wait for tomorrow. Rachel Tenenbaum, Chicago, IL
The National Holocaust Memorial and Museum
“It’s hot outside.” “It’s cold inside.” “I’m hungry.” “I’m tired.” These are complaints I hear on a daily basis, after this afternoon those drones seemed to disappear. All 57 participants went to the National Holocaust Memorial and Museum. Having studied the Holocaust, I thought I knew what to expect however one can never mentally prepare themselves for an experience like this. The museum has glass ceilings above the center lobby because the only thing the Nazis could not take away from the victims was the sky. The building was designed to embody the Holocaust. With brick walls, early twentieth century dim lighting, gates, and cold rooms, it is nearly impossible to avoid the eerie atmosphere that surrounds you. Words cannot describe how I felt while walking through one of the cars that shipped our ancestors on trains to the death camps, or how I could smell defeat on the hundreds of shoes belonging to those who were murdered in the gas chambers. That could have been my friends and family. Those shoes could have been mine. In that moment I realized how real this is. You are not born with hatred running through your bloodstream. Hate is taught. No one should be persecuted for who they are. As I walked out of the museum, it hit me; I am alive, I am healthy, I am Jewish, and I have nothing to complain about. God gave me this life to recognize and appreciate all that I have been given, and Impact: DC gives 57 Jewish teenagers an opportunity to carry out tikkun olam. Sydney Levin Epstein Longmeadow,, MA
Thoughts on the Holocaust Museum
They told me not to feel a certain way about the Holocaust; however as we walked through the many floors of the museum, my emotions were not in sync with the other teens’. Today I felt this emotional drain -- this feeling of emptiness in my stomach as I was awestruck at the gruesome sight of the “medical experiments” section: why did I not feel pain that others felt? Why was I not feeling this ‘sensory overload’ others were experiencing? Being a graduate of a Jewish Day School, an active member of a Jewish Youth Group, and a descendant of a family of Holocaust survivors, I, above all, should be feeling angst, spite, and intense emotions; at least that has been how I was instructed to feel all my life. However, I was empty. I had no emotions. All my life, I have been fighting to suppress my emotions, yet now, as I stare into the eyes of a Hitler bust, I yearn to feel something – anything. I have been jaded by all these traumatic stories of Holocaust survivors from my family and the greater community: my emotions weren’t available at a time when I desired them most. Today, I was able to witness the resilience of the European Jewry; however, as I watched all the videos and looked through all the pictures, the numbness was clear. It was clear to me that, although I had not been able to sum up my emotions, I was now able to think with more clarity than ever: I was able to sort my thoughts. While the day was filled with confusion, it truly did bring clarity to the work we have been doing and will continue to do in Washington, DC: as Jews, it is our responsibility to make the world a better place in whatever way possible. L’shavua tov, Sagee Moyal, Los Gatos, CA
Day at the Smithsonians!
We started the day off at Smithsonians! We visited the Newseum where we learned all about how the media impacts our daily lives. They had a section on presidential elections and how the role of the media has changed significantly over the years. There was also an exhibit about 9/11 and how the media captured the day and shared the news with the entire world. We also went through an FBI exhibit and discovered how the media helped them eventually find the unabomber. It was a really interesting museum and some of us even got the opportunity to make our own news report! After the Newseum we had the opportunity to explore the Smithsonians on our own. People went all over to National Air and Space Museum, American History Museum, the National Gallery, and the National Sculture Garden. It was a lot of fun! When we got back to Hillel we learned about Civics 101, the basics of government. We received important information that will help us with our lobbying preparation. We also had a session with the ADL, the Anti Defamation League. The ADL fates hate and discrimination all around the world. The person from the ADL informed us about how we can lobby for legislation against bullying. Sarah Goldstein, Harrisburg, PA
Shabbat Shalom from Impact DC!
Thoughts on Homelessness
The past couple programs at Impact DC have opened our eyes to the issue of homelessness and other issues that we as teenagers tend to ignore in today's society. The participants of this program do not experience the lifestyle of the people we have been working with. Today, the service group working with Martha's Table prepared and packaged meals for people who are not able to provide food for themselves. Reflecting back, our group recognized that since we have the privileges to feed ourselves, its our duty to use our resources to help the less fortunate. We also had the opportunity to volunteer with the kids in the day care center of Martha's Table. Most of these kids come from low income families who can't afford day care, typically priced at $90 a day. Martha's Table is a great option for these families because they charge $2-$10 a day, depending on the family. We were honored to work with such a great organization, and we always look forward to helping them out. Returning back to Hillel, our group spent time discussing some text and relating it to our experienced out in D.C our focuses were wisdom from spending time in these programs. The participants of impact can only become wiser as the program continues. Emma Schneider,Chicago, IL and Danielle Adler, Charlotte, NC
Our First Day!
As the first day of Impact: D.C. has passed, I think the only word that can properly describe the day was 'WOW.' Our service site is Metro Teens Aids and during the morning we learned about how HIV/AIDs is impacting the wider DC society. It was shocking to hear that 12.6% of African American women are inflicted with this awful disease. We went from MTA and took our first trip on the Metro to Georgetown. Georgetown is a beautiful part of D.C. that has many shops and restaurants that we so much fun to walk around and explore. From there, we took a bus to McPherson Square and participated in a program called "Street Torah." Street Torah provides us with the opportunity to interact with homeless men and women in D.C. It was an amazing learning experience to see that all the societal stigmas of homelessness are not necessarily true. We now it is getting late and it is time for bed. I am excited for tomorrow and I am so happy that I chose to come on Impact: D.C.
Welcome to Impact DC 2012!
We are so excited that everyone is arriving and we can’t wait to get started! This year’s theme for Impact DC is, “Ask not what your impact can do for you, but what you can do to make your impact.” Using this theme, our goal is to change people from focusing on what they will be receiving from the service we are about to do, but rather focus on the means in which people can make their impact. We have already met some of the participants that have arrived and we are so pumped! Stay tuned for more updates and amazing experiences.
Thank you for a great 2 weeks!
Posted on 07/25/2011 @ 03:59 PM
It is hard to believe that the two weeks are already over and Impact: DC 2011 has come to an end. We had such a wonderful group of teens and it was clear that everyone learned a lot and had a ton of fun.
Thanks for a memorable two weeks!
Natalie Sukienik, Program Director
A Note from Brandon Mond and Brad Hongberg
Posted on 07/22/2011 @ 12:42 PM
Dear Viewing Jewish Parents,
Over the past week we have had a tremendous time in the glorious city of Washington DC. We work at a Wider Circle, an organization created to furnish dwellings of people in need, and focuses on helping restore dignity to people coming out of poverty. On occasion, much to Max Lazar's (our group leader's) chagrin, we enjoy breakfast hotdogs at a local eatery cart conveniently located right outside the metro station. Another event we must share with you is the program called “Street Torah”. In “Street Torah” we connected with homeless people in McPherson square by striking up conversation. We met a very colorful gentlemen by the name of Alfred who told us about his adventures spanning multiple continents and shenanigans within the United States. We are having a great time and learning a lot.
Brandon Mond, Dallas TX, and Brad Honigberg, Mequon, WI
Jess Baar's Reflection on Service at Metro Teen Aids
Posted on 07/22/2011 @ 11:58 AM
A lot has happened during these past two weeks. We did an amazing program called Street Torah, went to service sites, participated in planned programs and yesterday, went to lobby. For this blog entry, I want to focus on my service site, Metro Teen AIDS (MTA).
MTA is all about promoting safer sex practices to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. During our first day there we met our amazing service site volunteer coordinator, Ana. She talked to us about what MTA was all about and gave us a lesson on HIV/AIDS. We learned that DC has the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the country with 3% of the population infected. This is well above the 1% needed for this to be considered an epidemic.
Throughout the next week my group continued to meet in MTA's "Freestyle" teen lounge. Freestyle is a place where local teens can go to hang out and be safe. It also provides programming and field trips, along with testing for various STD's. It gives the teens a place to go for support.
On Monday, we gave up some of our break time to plan and run a program for the local teens at freestyle. Let me just say that it was well worth it.
Wednesday was our last day there. The group walked throughout DC talking about HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness. Then we all sadly said our last goodbye to Ana whom we had grown so close with. Metro Teen AIDS was an eye opening experience and I learned a lot about not only HIV/AIDS, but an acceptance for other people who are ostracized for being different.
Jessica Baar, Allentown, PA
Nicole Fratkin's Lobbying Experience
Posted on 07/22/2011 @ 11:45 AM
Today we conquered the daunting task of lobbying! Looking around at everyone this morning was extremely nerve racking as each group was franticly jotting down notes and reviewing material while my group simply ate our bagels, however our lobbying session could not have gone better. Each person in my group was able to voice his or her own opinion and instead of arguing back at us, the Senator's legislative aid attentively listened to every word. Personally, I think I expected the aid to dismiss our views and facts because we weren't even of voting age, but she was actually extremely impressed by us and praised us for our preparation. It is reassuring to know that our Senator truly cares about what we have to say and understands that the decisions and legislation that he passes will directly affect us in the future. I could also tell that the atmosphere that the Senator had created in his office and his relationships with his staff were genuine, welcoming, and warm. I am grateful that a person like that represents my state and myself. Today we made a difference; we spoke up for what we believe in and I know that this is just the first step in a life long commitment to social justice and advocacy.
Nicole Fratkin, Richmond, Virginia
Impact: DC Through the Eyes of Nicole Fratkin
Posted on 07/20/2011 @ 06:45 PM
Impact DC has truly been amazing so far. Last year I was fortunate to be able to attend Impact Boston so I knew I’d have fun in DC, but I didn’t think I’d be having this much fun. The people are incredible, the city is filled with new experiences, and my service site is inspiring. I have been volunteering at a place called “A Wider Circle.” They are a non-profit that gives away the necessary items to fill a home to those recently transitioning from homeless shelters to real homes. On our first day, a little boy came into the toy section of which I was managing. He had never had a toy of his own before. I can’t even articulate the excitement and joy in his eyes as he picked out a fire engine, books, and legos to take home. What hit me even harder was the fact that he had never had a bed to sleep in before. This little boy’s life will now be changed because of the immense passion and generosity of “A Wider Circle.” The staff here is also wonderful. They lead sessions every other day where we discuss Jewish texts and the connection to the service and social action we are doing. I would write a page about this program, but I am about to go play basketball! I am so glad I decided to come and thank everyone who made this experience possible.
Nicole Fratkin, Richmond, VA