Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Creating a Service Community

By: Ms. Ora Meier, Chesed Coordinator, English/Art History Teacher

Many people often ask me: Why does SAR engage students and faculty in school-wide, organized group volunteering for over 25 partnering agencies? Couldn’t we just focus on student’s individual chesed activities or hours?  To answer this, it is important to consider how SAR’s model of collaboration in the classroom is applied to create a community of givers in the field.

Throughout the course of the academic year, SAR chesed activities include four grade-wide chesed days and over 50 advisory chesed trips, in addition to the ongoing activities of our eight different chesed clubs.  Each chesed day presents a diverse range of options where every advisory can choose a chesed trip that speaks to the group’s specific interests.  

SAR is unique because we allow individuals to select how they would like to spend their grade chesed day, and we invite advisories to choose their chesed trips.  At the very moment that an advisory group begins the conversation about how they would like to spend their time volunteering, they have created, within their group, a service-driven community.  During this initial conversation, a student may share a favorite memory about a previous volunteering opportunity, or an advisor may reveal a surprising talent that may benefit the service experience.  Some of these conversations often lead to students sharing honest concerns or fears that they might have when engaging with particular populations.  After this brainstorming session, the advisory selects their chesed trip and thus becomes more of a cohesive unit, inspired to give to others in a way that matches the talents and skills of the group members.  Ultimately, the key to successful team building is guided by the purpose of serving others. 

The strength of SAR’s chesed program is that the direct volunteering experiences are  transformative.  SAR partners with New York service agencies to address needs that include children’s supports, homelessness and hunger, hospitals and health, senior centers and nursing homes, and parks and nature.  At the start of the year, there is a planning meeting with each of the partnering agencies to both identify their respective specific needs for the year, as well as to discuss the opportunities and strengths that our students and faculty can provide.

Diverse options and collaborative team building is consistently our goal.  We want to make sure that there are volunteering options for every kind of student and teacher.  For example, there are students who are only interested in working with children (whether hospitalized, in a Head Start preschool, or a public school in an underprivileged neighborhood).  There are others who are committed to addressing poverty in New York City, through volunteering at soup kitchens or other food-related sites.  By the end of every month, we are proud to say that the SAR community has had a direct impact on helping those in need throughout New York City. 

Early last week, in preparation for the Twelfth Grade Chesed Day and an advisory chesed trip to Montefiore Children’s Hospital, Yoram Roschwalb and I began sorting the Thanksgiving-related craft items purchased from Oriental Trading.  For a brief moment, the colorful scratch leaves, fall stamps and “tree of thanks” frame kits didn’t seem as exciting in the box as when we had placed the order.  That instant of doubt dissipated when we began discussing each project and picturing our SAR students in action, transforming the basic items into an engaging, fun and memorable experience for the patients that they would soon meet.  I was invigorated by the knowledge that those who would lead these projects had requested one of their top choices for volunteering, and would, no doubt, accomplish its goals.

This Thanksgiving, consider how the SAR community chesed model can begin a new conversation about what it means to give, both individually and together, as a family.