Over the past week both our boys and girls high school students experienced chesed in the truest, most genuine sense of the word. For our girls it was the culmination of a year-long partnership with a local branch of the Special Olympics. For the boys it was full day spent in manual labor, assisting the disaster relief efforts in Tupelo, Mississippi as they recovered from the recent spate of tornadoes that hit the mid-South.
Both programs were organized by Rabbi Noam Stein, our Director of Student Life, and his descriptions are below. Both programs demonstrated to our students and to all of us, the power our children have to make our world a better place.
This year the GMSG participated in the Special Olympics bowling league. Athletes in the league are developmentally, and often physically, disabled children and adults. Volunteers in the league help the athletes who need help, cheer, schmooze and interact. Aside from the physical assistance, the main purpose of volunteering is to create a natural environment for interaction between the disabled and mainstream populations. Each of our students volunteered at the program, which required taking some time from school and some additional time from the students' personal time, once every other Monday. As a group, we helped staff the program every week.
The program was founded by David Ross and his late wife who found it to be an essential activity for their developmentally disabled daughter. Throughout the year David has been an essential educational and supportive resource for our students.
The closing awards ceremony was held on Monday, May 4th. Volunteers who had maintained steady attendance at the program received certificates of commendation. Each of the GMSG students received a certificate. Our school was also awarded a plaque in appreciation of being one of two schools to provide the most volunteers to the program. In addition, 12th grader Rachel Tsuna, who has been volunteering at the program since last year, received a $500 scholarship in appreciation of her committed service.
On Monday of this week the 11th and 12th grade boys went to an area outside of Tupelo MS to partner with Nechama, a Jewish disaster response organization. We spent the day on a chicken farm. The chicken coops, which had tin roofs, had been completely destroyed by the tornado two weeks ago. Mangled slabs of tin were scattered over a radius of at least a mile. The slabs were stuck in trees and brush that had also been uprooted by the tornado. The boys collected the tin and beat it back into flat pieces so that it could be hauled off the property. The homeowners, a wonderful family with whom we had the opportunity to interact, were recycling the tin in order to try and make back a small portion of the money they lost in the disaster.
Throughout the day it was brutally hot, and the labor was hard. The boys did a tremendous job of helping this family. At the end of the day, the homeowner came to shake each one of our hands and thank us. He told us that of all the volunteer groups that have come out, our boys worked the hardest. As he said, taking time to do this kind of work for people really shows what kind of person you are. The boys made a real kiddush Hashem with some people who have had very little interaction with Jews before.