Although I’ve participated in many North Shore Teen Initiative events, I had never been to J-Serve, and I never imagined it would have such an impact on my life. J-Serve is an international day of service for Jewish teens worldwide. Each year, 11,000 teens come together to volunteer at different sites. Here on the North Shore on April 17, just about 100 teen and parent volunteers came out to NSTI’s sevent annual J-Serve at the Bridge House Shelter in Lynn. Danvers High School Senior, Roie Shemesh, volunteered to help NSTI plan and run this year’s J-Serve. Shemesh called his fifth J-Serve, “even more than a success.”
The day began with a barbeque lunch and a short introduction by Executive Director Adam Smith framing the day of work by connecting our volunteerism to Jewish tradition. He explained how the portion in the Torah that was read the week before J-Serve challenges us to see the holiness in every single person. This teaching is located directly in the center, the same distance from the beginning to the end. That made me think about the people we were helping. The Bridge House is a homeless shelter providing temporary housing for families as they get back on their feet; they are not in the beginning of their struggle, but nor are they at the end of it, they are directly in the middle.
This year volunteers worked on six Mitzvah projects, each led by a teen leader. They created a beautiful landscape for the house, made a sandbox for the children to play in, built both picnic tables and benches, painted indoor walls with chalkboard paint, created mosaic flowers to hang around the house, and made a life sized scrabble board for the families to enjoy.
The landscape in front of the shelter started out looking bleak, but after teens dug up dead branches, planted, watered, and spread mulch, they brought a homier vibe to the House. “I chose to work on the landscaping project because it was the most difficult and rewarding project,” Marblehead High School Sophomore Mason Quintero explained. “I liked planting because plants give off oxygen to create a better environment much like how the teens at J-Serve are trying to help build a better space for the residents of the Bridge House.”
The sandbox, picnic table set and scrabble board will allow residents of the Bridge House to spend more time outside with their families, while the mosaics and chalkboard wall will inspire more play spaces inside. “Building the sandbox helped me feel like I was really a part of shaping these children’s lives,” said Marblehead High School Junior Glen Veytsman. “Once it’s finished, the kids will be able to build in the sandbox, taking their creative imaginations and making them into realities.”
Seeing 100 volunteers spending the first Sunday of vacation lending a hand when they could have been relaxing or traveling was powerful and created a sense of community and unity. I could not have had a better experience!
J-Serve was made possible by North Shore Teen Initiative, the Lynn Shelter Association and a grant from BBYO’s J-Serve program. To learn more about NSTI, visit nsteeninitiative.org and to learn more about J-Serve, visit Jserve.org. Elana Zabar is a student at Swampscott High School, Class of 2017.