Mitzvah: our kids and teens are making a mark on the world

Posted by: Audra Martin on Thursday, July 7, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, fifty-five percent of our youth, 12 to 18 years old, volunteer each year. That rate is nearly twice the adult rate.

Youth involved in religious activities are even more likely to volunteer. So, it is not surprising to see communities of Jewish youth traipsing around OC making a difference. Yet, it can still be a challenge to find a volunteer experience.

Each year Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’a lot hosts its Mitzvah Launch, engaging nearly 500 youth, ages 3-16, in volunteer work. Rabbi Leah Lewis explained that the idea is to introduce children to nonprofits and community work and “launching” them into more regular volunteer efforts.

Likewise, in addition to its own congregation-wide Mitzvah Day, Rabbi David Young, at Congregation B’nai Tzedek, is planning a family volunteer weekend in New Orleans. While enjoying the sights and sounds of New Orleans, with and without parents, youth will work hard each day with Habitat for Humanity, continuing the recovery efforts.

At the Merage JCC, JCC Cares, our social action committee invites the community to get involved in monthly mitzvah opportunities developed for all ages. “We’re making a real effort to include families and kids,” says JCC Cares co-chair, Nancy Chase, “Volunteering as a family is a great opportunity to do something constructive together while helping to teach your kids about big issues. Besides the wonderful benefits to our community, there are many benefits for your family. Volunteering together enhances values such as kindness, compassion and tolerance.” Families are invited to join JCC Cares at the Orange County Food Bank August 3, register at

Different ways to volunteer

If traditional volunteering does not work for your kids, you can still find ways to offer your children volunteering experiences. Create your own projects, such as clothing or canned food drives. When JCC member, Jonas, was 4 years old, he celebrated learning how to count by holding a book drive. He could count to 300 and hoped to collect 300 books. Ultimately, over 1,000 books, donated by family and friends and neighbors, were shared with Think Together, a large local tutoring program for kids of all ages.

When local teens heard the Illumination Foundation, a nonprofit working with homeless families, needed socks and underwear for their clients, the teens launched a “Socks-in-a-Box” campaign, stuffing new socks and underwear in Chinese dinner boxes.

Team Kids, based in Irvine, “mobilizes kid-preneurs”, encouraging kids to create lemon-aid stands to help victims of natural disasters. Kits are available online to help your kids create their own lemon-aid stand.

Summer time is a great time to get started

A lot of families donate food during the holidays, but the summer is a time of great need for O.C. kids. Irvine’s Second Harvest CEO, Nicole Suydam suggests, “Forty-six percent of OC kids benefit from school-lunch programs, but in the summer months, they don’t have that resource. It’s a cruel irony that Second Harvest suffers our lowest donation levels during their greatest time of need.”

Second Harvest offers Izzy’s Corner. The brightly colored kid-friendly volunteer space gives kids ages 7 to 13 the opportunity to help children in need by packing “backpacks” filled with snacks and small meals. Without these backpacks, some 1,800 kids in the county may go to bed hungry every day. “Izzy’s Corner provides a place where kids can help kids,” said Suydam.

Family volunteer resources

JCC Cares, the Merage JCC’s social action program, invites people of all ages to join monthly activities,

OneOC,, has a volunteer calendar with options for kids and families.

The Corporation for National & Community Service,, has toolkits outlining creating your own projects.



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