A group of teenagers did just that this week, as 20 BBYO members from all around the country came to the city for IMPACT: Pittsburgh, a three-day intensive experience of service, advocacy and Jewish values, from Sunday to Tuesday, sponsored by the BBYO Panim Institute. The teens stayed at La Roche College in the North Hills.
“Pittsburgh has a lot to offer many individuals of all ages and no matter what background you come from,” said Chuck Marcus, director of IMPACT: Pittsburgh. “The things that you can do here in Pittsburgh go farther because these teenagers can implement these projects and be leaders in their home communities, and when they go off to college, and when they go into professional lives.”
The teens followed a tight schedule during the three days. After arriving in Pittsburgh from a 12-day Chapter Leadership Training Conference in Bethany, W.Va., on Sunday, they went to the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium for a behind-the-scenes tour with educators.
The group got up close with the giraffes and other animals, and saw the sea turtle rehabilitation center.
“We went to the sea turtle rehab facility,” said Judith Cohen, a teen coordinator of the program, “and learned about their nesting and survival rate and why it’s important to have these rehab centers for them.”
IMPACT also provides leadership training to the teens. Training is based on “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens” by Sean Covey, a book about doing things effectively as a leader, according to Cohen.
“We give them the building blocks of basic leadership to be able to take that forward in whatever they choose,” Cohen said.
On Sunday night, the teens had a Stand Up Action Plan debriefing where they created a mission plan for what they wanted to stand up for or against when they return to their home communities. Topics included equal rights, hunger, sex trafficking and domestic violence.
“I ended up in the domestic violence category,” said 16-year-old Sharon Burke of Chicago. “I don’t really have a personal connection to it — I just think it’s a good cause. We came up with a whole elaborate idea to bring back to our chapter.”
The group volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House at Children’s Hospital on Monday morning. They cleaned the building, vacuumed, mopped, washed windows and helped organize.
After finishing at the Ronald McDonald House, they traveled to the North Side for a behind-the-scenes tour of PNC Park.
“The teens will learn what it takes to be a leader on and off the field,” Marcus said at the Ronald McDonald House before leaving for the ballpark.
From PNC Park, the group took a bus to Station Square and then rode the Duquesne Incline.
Tuesday morning the teens worked in the botanical garden at Congregation Adat Shalom, in Cheswick, before wrapping up the session.
While the teens kept busy learning and working throughout the convention, they enjoyed themselves in Pittsburgh.
“When you’re having fun while you’re doing it, it definitely makes it almost feel like you’re not working at all and that’s the best part of it,” said 15-year-old Matt Rabinowitz of Charlotte, N.C. “That’s why I think IMPACT is one of the better choices we could have made.”
(Andrew Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)