Twenty-two Connecticut teens were among a group of close to 100 teens from around the world who gathered in New York City on June 25-27 to help restore the communities affected by Hurricane Sandy, as part of BBYO Stand Up and Rebuild: A Teen Issue Summit on the Power of Service.
Hosted by BBYO, the worldwide pluralistic Jewish youth movement, the Summit was made up of members of BBYO’s high school leadership programs – the Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA) for young men and the B’nai B’rith Girls (BBG) for young women – from across the United States, Canada and Bulgaria. In New York, the teens learned about direct service and advocacy from guest speaker Steve Eisenbach-Budner, executive director of Tivnu: Building Justice. They will also attend a panel featuring those directly affected by the storm called “Sandy’s Devastation First Hand.”
They then engaged in hands-on service projects including gardening, cosmetic rebuilding in private homes, yard work and residential outdoor beautification, community beautification and assisting a local recovery group with various other projects.
Here’s what some of the Connecticut BBYO teens had to say about their experience:
“Stand Up and Rebuild was one of the most fulfilling programs I have ever been a part of. I have never been much of a volunteer; I always thought that my age limited what I could do for other people. During this summit, I learned from a victim, Patricia Dresch, that the littlest of things have the biggest of impacts. It gave the work I did at service a sense of purpose.”
— Jediah Zurwah-Friedland, Mansfield
“This experience opened my eyes to the things we as a community can and should be doing to help in areas that have suffered from natural disaster, such as Staten Island. The service projects made me feel like I was making a difference in other people’s lives. It was a heart-warming and unforgettable experience.”
— Adam Hurwitz, Woodbridge
“Going into it, we thought we were going to be helping to build homes, or paint rooms, or work on really big hands-on projects. Then when Patricia [Dresch] told us her story, it helped me to realize that whether we were building a house or doing the smallest of tasks, like sorting clothes, it was actually a huge help and meant a lot to those affected. I was in a group that cleaned up an area that was hit extremely hard by the storm, with condemned houses along the whole block and trash and debris everywhere. By the end of day one, after cleaning the area up and putting down mulch, we felt that we hadn’t done much. We knew we had worked hard, but we were unable to see the meaningfulness in putting mulch down in a grassy area. However, by the end of the second day after we planted flowers and plants, suddenly this big open area that was originally full of trash and weeds, was beautiful and didn’t look like there had been any sort of storm. I realized how meaningful our job was, even though it seemed small at first. Because to help these people get back on their feet, they needed to feel like they were back home, not living at the sight of the storm. By beautifying that area, that’s what we did – made it look like home.”
— Marla Friedson, Westport
In addition to Zurwah-Friedland, Hurwitz and Friedson, the Connecticut BBYO delegation to the summit, led by Josh Cohen, director of the Connecticut Valley Region BBYO, included: Amelia Abemayor of Chappaqua, Shaina Gluckman of Norwalk, Katelyn and Lauren Ide of Orange, Batsheva Labowe-Stoll of New Haven, Skylar Morley of Ridgefield, Miriam Roday of Orange, Amber Kitay of Stamford, Cory Sachs of Woodbridge, Zack Sandberg of Woodbridge, Lauren Schechter of Stamford, Alex Schiff of Milford, Victoria Sesmer of Westport, Lucas Steinmark of Burlington. And five BBYO alum: Emily Wyner of Danbury, Phoebe Wapnitsky of Fairfield, Nick Ginsberg of Woodbridge, Danielle McKinstry of Woodbridge and Sarah Baser of Hamden.