December 19, 2014   27 Kislev 5775
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Teens Making a World of Difference: New Orleans Mitzvah Experience
Mar. 10, 2011
An annual 4-day teen trip to New Orleans to engage in hands-on tikkun olam.

Community Contact Information:
Temple Emanuel
Greensboro, NC
www.tegreensboro.org

Goals:

  • To do meaningful and hands-on disaster relief work in New Orleans
  • To offer a service learning opportunity to engage older Jewish high school teens (11th and 12th graders)
  • To partner with other URJ congregations in developing an ongoing social action program

Overview:
The synagogue organizes an annual four-day teen trip to New Orleans, LA, to engage in hands-on tikkun olam with a focus on hunger relief, rebuilding efforts and environmental restoration.

Preparation:
Temple Emanuel’s rabbi was inspired to help with New Orleans’ rebuilding efforts after attending the spring 2008  Commission on Social Action meeting in that city. After researching volunteer opportunities and congregational and organizational service work, the congregation was ready to plan its own hands-on service learning trip to the Gulf Coast. Hearing of another interested synagogue in Florida, the two congregations came together to coordinate a joint service trip.

To plan the trip, the syangogue receives help from the volunteer coordinator of New Orleans’ Jewish Federation and guidance from congregants who have previously lived in New Orleans or have contacts there.   

To help subsidize the trip in its first year, the synagogue applied for a grant from the Commission on Social Action, collected donations from synagogue members and used funds from the Rabbis’ Discretionary Fund. In subsequent years, fundraising efforts by participants helped to subsidize the trip.

The first trip required significant planning including: travel logistics, meal planning, recruitment of participants and chaperones, arranging for speakers and volunteer assignments, lodging, Shabbat/havdalah preparation and evening activities/entertainment. Subsequent years have been easier to plan; with a growing list of local contacts, the congregation can focus more on recruitment and arranging volunteer opportunities. Marketing techinques include a slideshow, religious school presentations and recruitment sessions.

Project Implementation: 
Before the students travel to New Orleans, they spend an afternoon learning about Tikkun Olam and the events of Hurricane Katrina, as well as hearing first-hand testimonies from congregants who lived through Katrina or have lifelong connections to New Orleans.

The main objective of the first trip in 2008 was to restore a public school library. The trip participants appealed to the congregation for donations and collected approximately 2,000 books; one congregant even paid for shipping the books to New Orleans. The second trip in 2009 focused on rebuilding houses and hunger relief, and the third trip in 2010 focused on environmental restoration.

Results:
Temple Emanuel’s trip helps New Orleans residents devastated by Hurricane Katrina and other storms at a time when fewer and fewer groups are coming to New Orleans to volunteer. The trip participants speak during the 12th grade confirmation service about how the trip impacted their Jewish identities.

In addition, the program enables Temple Emanuel to make strong and lasting contacts with the New Orleans Jewish and greater community, as well as build a strong relationship with the other congregations that participate in the trip.

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