WEST ORANGE, NJ - Approximately 150 Golda Och Academy (GOA) students were placed throughout 11 different locations in surrounding towns including Livingston for the Ninth Annual All High School Community Service Day. From bagging non-perishable food items at food banks to working with children in schools for the disabled, the students of GOA were entrenched in activities benefiting the community.
“In continuing our mission of tikkun olam (repairing the world), it’s integral to the students’ school experience to have these opportunities to go into the community and grow, learn, share and interact with varying types of people in need,“ said Jordan Herskowitz, GOA’s director of student life and arts department chair. “This program helps ignite students to be inspired to do service work on their own time or continue the work they are doing throughout the year.”
The idea for the day was born out of interest from a group of students nine years ago who asked how they could do more to help the community at large. “Those same meaningful conversations from almost a decade ago absolutely ring true to this day,” said Adam Shapiro, associate head of school and upper school principal. “Our students learn that tikkun olam and derekh eretz (the code of proper behavior that binds people together) are at the core of what we stand for as a school and that each student can effect change. While our Community Service Day is limited in hours, it inevitably serves as a springboard to our students doing more – volunteering after school and on the weekends – in an effort to better the world around them.”
Students were able to choose from sites that involved interacting with children (Harambee Community Development Initiative in East Orange and Rise Academy Elementary School in Newark), working with youth and adults with disabilities (Cerebral Palsy of New Jersey in Livingston, The Children’s Institute in Verona, Jespy House in South Orange), and helping food pantries and homeless outreach (Bridges Outreach in Summit, Community Food Bank in Hillside and Interfaith Food Pantry in Orange). Participants also visited Canterbury Village in West Orange where participants brightened the day for seniors in the assisted living facility.
After ranking their top choices, students were divided into groups at each location. Tenth grader Emily Blum said the Food Bank was one of her top choices. “We had an assembly line of boxes and were packing the goods and sorting them. Everyone was working together and helping other people as a community.”
Ninth grader Rachel Bonder, who visited the Cerebral Palsy School of New Jersey (CPNJ), said she was nervous initially but in the end was happy she had the opportunity to go to CPNJ. In the classroom, she helped children clap along to a song. “Even though the kids couldn’t communicate, it was amazing to see how they did things and how helpful the volunteers who work there are,” said Bonder. “They were so nurturing and caring. It is great for everyone to experience different ways to help out whether it’s personal connections with high functioning or disabled children or packaging food at the food banks.”
Bonder, who has a friend that volunteers at CPNJ said she has been inspired to volunteer herself when she can.
Robotics club students Ben Soudry and Alex Rothschild, who have been volunteering weekly at the CPNJ upper school, chose CPNJ for Community Service Day to continue working on an ongoing project. Soudry and Rothschild are designing and constructing a way for one of the CPNJ students to play Xbox using head movements on his wheelchair, after having been approached by the CPNJ volunteer coordinator and therapist. Chaperone Melinda Udell, health and physical education teacher at GOA, thought the entire morning was a success. “While a majority of our students had been to CPNJ before, some were new,” she said. “Our students were really wonderful interacting with CPNJ students, and it was apparent everyone enjoyed the morning.”
GOA junior Jordan Broder, who participated in his third All High School Community Service Day, was nevertheless jaded by the significance of the program. “It is so important to give back to our community,” he said, “and it feels good to give back with our friends, taking time out of our busy day. It encourages many people to continue doing community service outside of the program because of the feeling it gives us.”