I have no memory of my first Mitzvah Day, which I am told we attended as a family at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC when I was in preschool. My mom tells me that I colored cards to include in care packages and blessing bags and that she and my dad helped my little brother and I go through the assembly line to pack winter care packages. I don’t know why we did not return to the JCC on Christmas the next few years, but I am pretty confident that we did not realize it was an annual event. When I was in middle school, one of our neighbors told my mom about another Day of Service sponsored by the Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC), and from that day forward, we were hooked. Four years ago, we participated in the first Mitzvah Day that I can remember. My mom, brother and I served Christmas dinner at Baltimore Station and we stayed for a while afterward to talk with some of the residents. It was a cool experience and we returned a few months later with JVC as part of an event, Tailgate with a Purpose, where we served lunch and then watched the game with the residents who seemed as excited to get to know us as we were to get to know them. In fact, this experience led me to join the Baltimore Hunger Committee at my school (Friends) because they volunteer at Baltimore Station during the year. We needed to stay closer to home the next Mitzvah Day and so we decided to volunteer on both December 24t and 25t at Levindale. It was two more great experiences and we have chosen to return to Levindale each year since. I love spending time with the residents and hearing their stories and I feel good knowing that I am giving back to the community. For the past couple of years, my mom has been the project leader, hosting a holiday party on the 24th and facilitating bingo on Christmas. This year, as a member of the JVC Mitzvah Day board, I wanted to take on more responsibility and I am stoked to be the leader for these Levindale events (though I am sure my mom will be keeping a close eye on me!) I know I lead a very blessed life. I am surrounded by a loving family, attend a school with teachers who encourage and challenge me, and live in a safe neighborhood. I never need to worry about there being enough food, being warm enough in the winter or cool enough in the summer. I do not take this for granted and I want to give back and make a positive difference in the community. Mitzvah Day is just one of the many volunteer opportunities that I enjoy doing with JVC. There are so many opportunities for people of all ages to volunteer throughout the year, both directly or indirectly, even if time is very limited. For me, Mitzvah Day was a springboard to learning about more opportunities for giving back, and the community service with JVC has provided me with a larger appreciation and understanding for why this “work” is important.
From as far back as I can remember – being married to my wife of 10 years (and knowing her for 12) – we have enjoyed participating in various types of “Community Service” days whether living in New Jersey or Maryland. While it has a different, yet familiar name in New Jersey (Mitzvah Day at the J), and we did not have our two children then, it was and still is a day full of activities/mitzvot supporting the community. Now that our two children are at the age where they understand what we are doing and why, we feel that it is important to inspire them and demonstrate that kindness and understanding brings the community closer. While in Maryland, we have participated four times in Jewish Volunteer Connection’s (JVC) Annual Community Mitzvah Day where our children have enjoyed helping the community. They are naturally curious and want to know who needs winter care packages and why. They ask many questions about why people don’t have clothes or food to eat, and we have explained how many small mitzvot like making trail mixes, sandwiches and coloring pictures can have more impact on the community than a single, large activity. Year after year, we have come back to JVC to support them on this important day. And after participating in the Mitzvah Days, it was an easy progression for the kids to want to do more. This past spring, we participated in the JVC’s Good Deeds Day where we cleaned up a portion of the Western Run Stream in Park Heights. Our children, aged four and seven, could not have been more excited to help. It may have had to do with the fact that they would be able to play near or even in a stream and use a cool trash grabber tool (yes, that’s the technical term), but they also understood why cleaning up the stream was important. This was not in their neighborhood. Nor was it really something that would have had a direct impact on their daily lives, yet they understood the impact to the community. Maybe the direct impact is the way these events make it easy to teach kindness to our children. Simple acts of help go a long way.