Community service

Teens explore community service with SERVE & Sweat

Seventeen teenagers recently spent the week making the world a better place.

“Just seeing the happy looks on the faces of the children – it’s an instant reward for the work we do,” Dani Barg, 15, told JHV. “It’s not just about community service hours, it’s about helping others.”

Barg is one of the teen volunteers for SERVE & Sweat, a week-long camp offering a different community service project each day.

One of the projects held on June 23, the Owlympics, involved Rice University partnering with the YMCA of Greater Houston to host more than 650 youth for a field day. This is where SERVE & Sweat volunteers served as advisors.

“It has certainly changed the lives of many young people at the YMCA of Greater Houston,” Rice Athletics senior associate athletic director Tanner Gardner told JHV. “And, we couldn’t have done it without the students of SERVE & Sweat.”

The camp was designed by Melissa Rubenstein Levin and hosted by Generation SERVE Houston.

“I’m very picky about kids and community service,” Rubenstein Levin told JHV. “I need my children to see the real beneficiaries of nonprofit organizations to understand need and develop gratitude.”

The week-long event was so well received that Rubenstein Levin was invited to do another camp in August.

“My goal,” Rubenstein Levin said, “is to introduce these teenagers (and perhaps their parents) to a variety of nonprofits, hoping they experience ‘wizard euphoria. and continue to work with at least one nonprofit that “talks to them”.

Alec Schaefer, 15, found Bethel’s Heavenly Hands to be the most meaningful project of the week. Bethel depends on volunteers to distribute 40 tons of food to Houstonians in need each year.

“Just the fact of the impact we had on others made it the most meaningful,” Schaefer told JHV. “They go through 1,000 people every week, giving them groceries so they have enough to eat. Being able to help them – and they need a lot of help – was so important. We definitely did more for them than for any other project.

Tikkun olam comes naturally to Schaefer and Barg, who both have a history of giving back to the community.

“I go to Emery/Wiener so we have a tikkun olam program there. I chose Generation SERVE because I have worked with them before. Throughout the COVID year, I’ve done virtual projects online, like cards for hospitalized children or meals on wheels,” Barg said. “When I saw they had a camp where you could try five different community service events, I rushed to take it. We had to work with all kinds of people and all kinds of tasks. It was a good experience.”

Besides Bethel’s Heavenly Hands and the Owlympics, the teens had the opportunity to make a difference by working with the Houston Police Mounted Patrol washing the horses, picking up manure and feeding the horses. At the Emergency Aid Coalition, volunteers prepared and served lunch for the homeless, stocked grocery store shelves, hung up clothes and helped customers with groceries. At the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, students removed invasive species, mulched walkways and repotted seedlings.

As well as working with charities, there was an icebreaker component, to help teens bond, and reflective journals so teens could remember highlights or low points each day.

“It was also very us-centric,” Barg said. “It was about building team spirit and community and it was just a good experience.”