Many of the fellows grew up doing volunteer and service work, and for them, it goes hand-in-hand with their Jewish identity.
“I very strongly believe that doing social action and doing community service and volunteering is being Jewish,” said Lesovoy. “There’s no one without the other, and I think it’s very ingrained in the religion and faith and the people as it is.”
For Sunshine, spending two years working at Johns Hopkins Hospital inspired him to apply for the fellowship.
“I saw this disconnect between the Jewish population of Baltimore and a lot of the neighborhoods that people say are ‘bad neighborhoods’ and neighborhoods in need and I always thought, ‘What would it take to bridge the gap between those neighborhoods?’” Sunshine said.
Mark loved the idea of getting to work on grassroots change for a year, which she thinks is the catalyst for creating larger systematic change.
The fellows are tasked with not only volunteering themselves, but recruiting other young volunteers and helping service become a part of their lives and Jewish identities.
Some 70 percent of the respondents of the 2010 Greater Baltimore Jewish Community Study reported taking part in some kind of volunteer activity, but fellows and experts alike see the millenials as a hard demographic to engage.
“I feel, particularly, our generation has become apathetic to the idea of volunteering,” said Gorin.
Ashley Pressman, executive director of Jewish Volunteer Connection said her organization sees the community’s interest in service, but also its unwillingness and inability to commit.
“Our goal is to create low-barrier entry point opportunities, very much the same as what Repair is looking to do,” she said. “To have an organization to come into the community for the purpose of engaging millenials in meaningful hands-on volunteer service and building that culture of service toward a goal of a lifetime of service was really exciting. We really see that as building on our mission.”
Marc B. Terrill, president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, said Repair the World is giving his organization, which is working closely with the effort, the opportunity to connect to more people in meaningful ways.
“A dynamic volunteerism platform affords meaningful connections for those who want to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” he said. “In terms of community strategy, it provides an ease of connection. It doesn’t require lots of money or high degrees of education, just the willingness to be involved.”
In order to take on this task of engaging their peers, the fellows have had various training sessions and have ongoing group learning programs. In addition to community organizing and volunteer recruitment, the fellows have learned specific ways to ignite passion in others and how to bring Jewish values into the discussion. They took part in racial justice training, where they reflected on stereotypes and racism and how those things play out in the world and how they can be challenged, Zisow said.
“Thinking about power and privilege within the work we do in Baltimore, so many times it seems like it’s the elephant in the room,” she said. “But the way we do the work will really be influenced by whether or not we talk about it.”
The fellows have also been working on their skills as facilitators and storytellers as well. Figuring out how to tell their story and, in the process, get their peers to talk about their passions, is crucial to the task.
For the month of November, the fellows had the goal of six new one-on-ones per week, whether it was conversations with a partner organization,
another young adult or anyone else they came into contact with.
The fellows have weekly team meetings and weekly learning sessions; each month has a different theme. They’ve covered the themes of community and storytelling. Upcoming themes include meaningful service and power and privilege.
Michael Hoffman, chief planning and strategy officer for The Associated, said the organization’s executive team “could not be more excited” to have these nine passionate young people armed with the knowledge and skills to spread that passion to others.
“Having nine people that are pounding the pavement and facilitating this hands-on volunteerism targeting the young adult population, that is huge for us,” he said.
Will it work? Will Repair the World manage to engage other busy young people, many of whom have full-time jobs and various other commitments?
“If you chip away as many obstacles as possible, then people will get interested, and once they try it, they’ll get hooked,” Sunshine said.
For the fellows, that means approaching people where they are and as they are.
“I think [volunteering] is something that should come from a place of honesty and wanting to be a part of something greater, to feel like ‘I want to plug in and I want to help’ … as opposed to being told you have to go volunteer,” Mark said. “And one of the reasons why I’m with Repair is to be able to change that, to be able to find the spaces [people fit in] and redefine what volunteering actually is.”
For Zisow and the fellows, the hope is to engage others and get them to think about their city as a whole, to have those in the suburbs thinking about their neighbors in the inner city in a critical way and to work to bridge the gaps by bringing tangible change to life downtown. Among the fellows, this idea is ingrained in them, and they plan to pass it on.
“In order to live in this world as a Jewish person, you’re supposed to help everyone in need,” Gorin said. “You’re supposed to be a part of change in every way.”
How To Get Involved
Repair the World: Follow the organization on Twitter, on Facebook or visit werepair.org. Repair the World is holding an open house at its under-construction workspace, at 3700 Eastern Ave., Baltimore, on Thursday, Dec. 12, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Jewish Volunteer Connection: Visit jvcbaltimore.org to view volunteer opportunities for teens, families, adults, young adults and more. Contact Erica Bloom at email@example.com or 410-369-9302 for more information.
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Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter — firstname.lastname@example.org