Teenagers with Baltimore chapters of the BBYO Jewish youth group created crafts for Ukrainian refugees for their annual J-Serve fundraising event.
Forty-one teenagers from BBYO Baltimore made and collected over 60 projects designed as housewarming gifts for Ukrainians arriving in the city. They tie-dyed bed sheets and pillowcases, painted mugs and created “welcome home” decorations. The event was focused on refugees, but they also recorded videos to be sent to teens in Odessa, Baltimore’s sister city in Ukraine.
BBYO Baltimore partnered with a variety of organizations to plan the event and make sure the gifts were sent to their proper recipients. These included 4Front, JCC of Greater Baltimore, JCC Middle School Leadership Council, Jewish Volunteer Connection and The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore.
The Associated has connections to a local refugee support group, which is how the projects are getting delivered to refugees arriving in the Baltimore area.
But the event was mainly organized by two Baltimore teen shloshim — Liam Asher, 18, of Ashkelon BBYO, and Samantha Solomon, 18, of Orali BBG. Their role as shloshim is to create engaging BBYO programming. They worked with Maddie Siegel, BBYO Baltimore’s associate regional director, to plan the event.
“It’s weird to say, but we got lucky that there was a cause we could support this year,” Asher said. “The timing was very fortunate. We were able to help when help was needed most.”
Asher and Solomon originally had the idea to create and send care packages to Ukraine, but when that proved unfeasible, they pivoted toward helping refugees coming to the U.S.
They specifically picked items that refugees may not think to take with them,
such as household decorations and bedsheets.
“Supplies are going to people escaping conflict and those coming to Baltimore
from the Ukraine,” Solomon said. “We wanted to do something that would make their homes more comfortable and make Baltimore feel like a positive place.”
As some refugees may not be able to return to Ukraine for a while, she said, BBYO Baltimore wanted to focus on “making their house a home” and making them feel welcome in the U.S.
There was also a strong push to bring Ukrainians and Americans together, creating interpersonal connections between them.
J-Serve events happen every year in BBYO chapters across the country. Jewish teenagers are encouraged to connect with others from the U.S. and beyond, and to help those in need. According to its official website, J-Serve is also connected to Good Deeds Day and Global Youth Service Day so participants can make more of an impact in helping impoverished communities and individuals.
Organizing such a large event was no small undertaking. Asher and Solomon had to coordinate BBYO Baltimore’s schedule with those of the organizations they were partnering with. It required a great deal of coordination and making sure everyone was on the same page.
“Things came together at the last minute, but they turned out well,” Asher said.
Ilana Kornblatt, the regional director of BBYO’s Baltimore Council, said she was impressed by the initiative the teenage leaders showed in planning the event and creating opportunities for BBYO members to help Ukrainian refugees.
“It’s very impressive to see [the teens’] effort and impact in putting something like this together,” she said. “That’s something we love about BBYO.”
She also noted that BBYO is meant to be a welcoming space for all Jewish teenagers from around the world. Even outside of J-Serve, they are always planning events, and they encourage people to reach out and join in — whether it’s to help their community or find a community of their own.
When asked what she hoped participants took away from the event, Solomon said, “If anything, it should be that it’s this easy to make people feel
at home. So go out and make the effort.”