“The idea is to foster this connection for teens to the community they live in, so they understand that they need to give back,” said Nitsa Bucritz Ford, the teen initiative coordinator at the Agency for Jewish Learning. “And also to tie them up to the Jewish idea of tikkun olam, which is repairing the world.”
This is the sixth year the city of Pittsburgh has participated in J-Serve, coordinated locally by the AJL. This is also the largest number of teens the effort has had participate. Last year, there were around 200 participants, but it was also restricted to high school students. This year, the organizers opened the event to seventh- and eighth-grade students.
The teens chose the sites where they volunteered. Their options included Global Links, where the teens sorted and packed medical equipment for developing countries in need, and Bethany House, where they gardened and cleaned toys at the day care center that serves refugee children.
Since Sunday was also Earth Day, many events focused on the environment, including working with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy to clean up the Nine Mile Run Watershed.
One of the biggest groups of teens, about 30, spent the day at Construction Junction in Point Breeze, where they sorted, cleaned and recycled. They could spend time with Free Ride, a do-it-yourself recycled bike collective, and Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse (PCCR), both located at Construction Junction.
Many places where the teens spent the day rely on volunteers to accomplish their goals. J-Serve helps the teenagers recognize those goals.
“A day like this is important because even though we might be teenagers and younger than the adults around us who run our community, we can still make a difference and work to make the world a better place,” said Emily Rollman, 15, of Squirrel Hill, who got involved in the day through BBYO.
Rollman spent the afternoon at PCCR having fun with friends, while also having a tangible impact on her community.
While helping to sort ornaments, and listening to some Bob Marley, Joe Schermer, 17, from North Hills, looked back on his time volunteering as a high school student.
Schermer is a senior, so this was his last J-Serve. In addition to learning how to help his community, he’s learned how to be a leader.
“I like motivating the younger kids to get off the couch and get out there and do some work around the community,” Schermer said. “To help benefit anyone who needs benefiting.”
(Ilana Yergin can be reached at email@example.com.)