“WE CREATED ‘Bottles of Smiles’ for kids in the hospital by decorating jars and filling them with colorful stickers, crayons and coloring booklets. Then we put positive notes in the jars to cheer up their day,” said Jenny Rubin, 15.
Jenny’s participation in the Bottles of Smiles project was part of a BBYO initiative that began in Texas and drew the attention of the BBYO teenagers in Colorado Springs.
Nicole Unger, 15, is the president of Colorado Springs BBYO chapter 5179. This chapter includes teenage boys and girls rather than two separate chapters, the practice in larger cities.
Nicole is a sophomore at Palmer Ridge High School in Monument and has a sister, Natalie, who is in eighth grade.
“I love being part of BBYO because it’s a great opportunity to work with other Jewish kids in our community and contribute to projects that make a difference,” said Unger.
“BBYO provides an avenue for Jewish teenagers to meet other Jewish teens, particularly in a relatively small Jewish community.”
In April, the BBYO chapter girls gathered at Unger’s home to decorate a mannequin representing the traits and characteristics of powerful Jewish women.
The mannequin will be part of an art-related fundraising event in Denver at which attendees vote on the mannequins created by the teenagers.
Several girls from BBYO Chapter 201 in Denver traveled to Unger’s home to participate in this event.
"We chose to feature Anita Pearlman, the founder of B'nai B'rith Girls, in our mannequin and to visually and artistically describe her in some way," Unger said.
Students from Colorado Springs participated in the BBYO Kallah convention in Denver to reconnect with friends from around the Rocky Mountain region.
"What's really special about these conventions is that you form a deep¬ er connection because you share the same values and beliefs. We're all Jewish and thus the programming is catered to Jewish values and problems," recalls Unger.
Another active member of the chapter is Jenny Rubin, 15, a sophomore at Rampart High School. Her role on the board focuses on Jewish events, leading Hebrew prayers, and planning programs about Israel. "I try to incorporate Jewish ideas and values into our events," Rubin indicated.
At most of the schools in Colorado Springs, there are few Jewish students. Rubin said, "At times, I'm envious of the high schools in Denver that have large numbers of Jewish students. In my school, it can be difficult Outreach to Vail, Boulder, New Mexico during Passover when friends don't understand why I'm not eating bread."
Unger vividly remembers being bullied in elementary school.
"It was pretty difficult. I was proud to be Jewish, but it was hard to be a minority at school. In elementary and middle school I became somewhat shy and quiet about my Jewish identify. Then in high school, with BBYO, I again felt really proud and open about Judaism."
Unger said that Temple Shalom's Hebrew school became her Jewish peer group, then after age 13 her participation in BBYO supported her sense of pride in her Jewish culture, values and identity.
She went to BBYO summer camp in Wisconsin, which further deepened her commitment to Judaism and connection with BBYO.
"You're part of something bigger than yourself. That's why I love BBYO so much."
Nicole Unger's father, Mike Unger, is assistant executive director at USA Swimming and an NBC correspondent for the upcoming Summer Olympics in Brazil.
Mom Lisa Unger is an environmental and civil engineer and a member of the board of the Colorado Springs Hadassah chapter. The family is affiliated with Temple Shalom.
The Rubins are members of Temple Shalom and active in the Colorado Springs Jewish community. Jenny's mother, Sue Rubin, is the manager of key accounts at Globus Family of Brands, a customized group travel company. She is also a member of the Temple Shalom PTA board.
Marty Rubin, who served on the Temple Shalom board and nominating committee, is manager of Product Marketing at PMC, Sierra.
Members of the Colorado Springs BBYO board chapter 5179 include: President Nicole Unger, Jenny Rubin, Daniel Sidman, Annabelle Farris and Evan Shafer.
Several of these teenagers have older siblings who were involved in BBYO, which has helped the small chapter sustain its membership over the years.
The chapter is diverse, with homeschooled students such as Annabelle Farris, who is also a competitive figure skater; and Evan Schafer, a competitive gymnast.
Rubin is involved in tennis, color guard, FBLA and DECA, and helps out as a madrichah for the religious school.
During the Kallah convention in Denver, Unger was elected to the regional board.
She will focus on attracting new teenagers to BBYO prior to eighth grade as part of the national BBYO connect program.
Her board position includes helping chapters in areas such as Boul- der, Vail and New Mexico to connect to the resources they need.
"I've had a wonderful Jewish experience here as far as my education and my Bat Mitzvah," Rubin said of growing up in Colorado Springs.
"I haven't experienced anything negative at school in terms of Jewish identify. "Rampart High School is a designated 'No Place For Hate' school through ADL and I think that's impacted me personally.
"This program has helped create a good culture at our school and there's a lot of effort devoted to ensure an inclusive and accepting environment."