Smiling Superheroes: The J-Teen group gathers in front of the home they repainted. Courtesy J-Teen
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Would you fly? Become invisible? Make pizza magically appear? At J-Teen, a community service organization based in Westchester, we do our best to solve problems as real-life superheroes. Through J-Teen, participants become advocates for meaningful projects and find ways to help their communities.
In January, 30 J-Teen volunteers flew to Houston to aid neighborhoods affected by floods in the spring of 2015. When we arrived in Houston for Martin Luther King weekend we began with a volunteer icebreaker — we introduced ourselves with our name, grade, school and superpower we would like to have. I wanted the power to read minds. We had yet to do any service projects and improve any lives, but at the end of the trip we made significant accomplishments and felt like superheroes.
We began our first day by helping the UOS Goldberg Montessori School, which is temporarily located at Congregation Brith Shalom since the Montessori facilities were severely damaged in the flood. We donated items of Judaica and books about the Jewish holidays. The children, who were between 3 and 6 years old, were so pleased to be receiving these new items since their books in the school had been destroyed. We had the opportunity to read to the children, and the children read to us as well. Not only did we enrich the children with new books, but we also enhanced their Jewish culture with more learning tools. These children are our next Jewish generation, and they need to learn to pass traditions on to the generation after them. (Photo left to right: Zoe Moskowitz, Jordyn Glantz and Ilana Geller read Jewish-themed books to Houston pre-schoolers. Courtesy J-Teen)
On Sunday we volunteered with Rebuilding Together Houston. The group offers free home repairs and renovations so qualifying homeowners can live in a safe and renewed place. Our project was to repaint the home of a military veteran and his wife. When we arrived the house was partially covered in peeling and faded yellow paint. In a matter of four hours we peeled the paint, applied primer and repainted the whole house. Instead of the half-colored house that was there before, the couple now had a home that was as green as mint toothpaste. This job would’ve taken a normal team probably three or four days to accomplish; as a group we accomplished the job in superhero speed.
On our last day we volunteered at the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church, where we had attended Sunday morning services the previous day. As Jewish teens, most of us had been to church only once or twice, if at all. So frankly we weren’t sure if we would appreciate the service as much as the members of the church. However, by the end we were all singing and smiling because of the amazing and welcoming service. The pastor was so captivating that he made us want to stand up and chant with him. His voice never quieted down, and behind him was the choir with men and women singing and dancing. Children engaged the audience by dancing on the floor in front of the stage. The church members also danced and stood to send their prayers to the pastor.
This energy made us very excited to come back the next day to volunteer at the church’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day fair. At the event there were many stations to help members of their community and the homeless population. I was assigned to the reading room where we did activities with the children while their parents were in a parenting session. We made some crafts and sat with the children while they listened to stories. One girl walked in and after I greeted her with a cheery hello she said, “I want to work with you.” This showed me that a smile could go a long way. I helped her and some others make superhero masks. Once the children completed their masks, we put them on their faces and asked them to choose a superpower. The children had the same answers as the volunteers: they wanted to read minds, to fly and to be invisible. Dreams don’t change, it seems, no matter the age.
We started our journey by contemplating superpowers, and then we were able to accomplish so much that we became superheroes ourselves. Entering the trip I hoped for the power to read minds. However, I learned that it is not necessary to read minds as long as we our willing to tell our story. If everyone tells his or her story, then we can change the world by preventing evil history from repeating itself and by being prepared for the uncontrollable disasters that come our way. We all possess the power to make a difference.