Food banks, animal shelters, park cleanups, fundraisers… where do I begin? Volunteering is a key part of many high schoolers’ after-school life, whether it be for the social bonds, the benefit of adding an extracurricular to a college application, or to act on the mitzvah of helping others in need. In just the Greater MetroWest region, there are countless opportunities, cohorts, and service projects recruiting teens for help.
Overwhelmed by the sheer number of volunteer opportunities, I remember spending hours searching the internet and asking friends and family for the volunteer opportunities that would fit me best. That’s until I found Iris Teen Tzedakah, a cohort of passionate Jewish teenagers looking to make a difference in the world around them.
The main focus of the cohort is allocating a budget to various volunteer organizations in the area. While many other teen-oriented volunteer organizations concentrate on encouraging teen participation in service projects and initiatives, Iris Tzedakah promotes a behind-the-scenes look into how volunteer organizations receive and budget money towards service projects. Cohort members collaborate with each other to decide where to allocate the program’s budget-which projects to fund-and which to not.
As part of Iris Teen Tzedakah, a Shark Tank-style pitch meeting is held, where various service organizations represent themselves and allocation decisions are made.
The format of Iris Tzedakah was one of the most appealing aspects of the program to me. All meetings are held with other like-minded peers, which allows for social collaboration and respectful debate, activities which do not usually come to mind when I think of volunteering. Being part of Iris Tzedakah allowed me to diversify my volunteering and make social bonds with others in the program. I gained a sense of understanding for the inner-workings of volunteer organizations, learning how allocating a budget operates. After completing the program in my Sophomore year of high school, my time at the Jewish Federation was only beginning.
For my junior year, I progressed into the Iris Teen Mitzvot program, a continuation of the Tzedakah program. Taking what I had learned from being part of Iris Tzedakah, in Iris Mitzvot, I was able to take part in creating my own volunteer projects for Jewish Federation’s Mitzvah Mania events! I worked with a sub-group in the cohort to plan a party for underprivileged kids at the Elizabeth Coalition. While taking part in this event and interacting with the kids would have been rewarding, being able to plan the actual activities and logistics of the event was taking my interaction to a whole new level. The cohort shares many similarities with the Tzedakah program in that there is a focus on approaching volunteering and Jewish service from a different angle from many other opportunities out there.
In addition to the Iris Mitzvot program, for my Junior year, I joined the J-SERVE committee, a group tasked with planning and marketing the teen service projects for J-SERVE which is part of CommUNITY Mitzvah Day, an annual day of Jewish service projects. At our monthly meetings, we discussed logistics for the various projects on the day of the event in April, it felt incredibly rewarding to see my Passover Food Drive run smoothly and know that I was helping those in need.
When I started Iris Teen Tzedakah in my sophomore year of high school, I did not expect that I would be joining two additional committees and find opportunities that would fit exactly what I had been searching for. Being able to be involved with the unique opportunity of planning service projects has since become a passion of mine. The social bonds I have made from all three programs are appreciated as an out-of-school way to meet new friends and Jewish teens in my area. Finally, the mitzvah of both being involved in the planning and actual service as part of a project is a mitzvah and helps to improve our local community of Greater MetroWest.
My recommend that every Jewish teen in the area explore JTEEN’s programs like Iris Teen Tzedakah. They are a phenomenal way to give back to your community and meet Jewish teens in the area!