About 150 volunteers met in the auditorium of the Stroum Jewish Community Center on Mercer Island on Sept. 9 to participate in the Young Leadership Division’s Mitzvah Day.
Mitzvah Day brings the community together to volunteer for five hours in various places around the greater Seattle area. It provides an opportunity for families, groups and individuals of all ages to reach out and perform an act of kindness. Projects this year ranged from yard work, painting and repair to visiting the elderly. About 15 percent of the participants this year were new to Mitzvah Day, said David Sabban of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.
Paul Jaye and Rod Fisher, the co-chairs of Mitzvah Day started the event out by thanking everyone for participating and introduced Jane Deer-Hileman, volunteer coordinator at Jewish Family Service.
“I tell you throughout your lives, you’re going to be able to go out and make a difference,” said Deer-Hileman.
Rabbi Chaim Levine from Aish Seattle came up to the podium and joked, “Welcome to Bar Mitzvah Day!” He told several inspiring stories to the volunteers. One of them included a story about a kid on a beach picking up starfish off the sand and throwing them back into the water. A man who sees him asks the kid with all of the starfish on the sand if it really mattered that the kid was doing that. The kid responds by picking up another starfish, throwing it into the sea and saying, “it matters to that one.”
“What you’re doing today probably won’t be in the papers,” said Levine. “It’s going to be more important than anything you’re going to read about.” Various groups, divided up and went on to the various locations they were assigned to benefiting: Bailey-Boushay House, Childhaven, Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, Congregation Beth Shalom, Eastside Adult Day Services, Hearing Speech and Deafness Center, Humane Society for Seattle/King County, Jewish Family Service, Kline Galland, Lifelong AIDS Alliance, Multifaith Works/Multifaith AIDS Project, Neighborhood House, Northwest Harvest, Northwest Jewish Environmental Project, NW Yeshiva High School, Partners in Caring, PAWS (Progressive Animal Welfare Society), Stroum JCC and Jubilee Women’s Center.
A group of women were assigned to volunteer at Jubilee Women’s Center, a transitional housing center for single women on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. According to a Jubilee brochure, “An October 2000 count of the homeless estimated there are at least 600 single women who are homeless in Seattle on any given night.”
Women come into the center from varying circumstances, from a domestic violence situation to a financial crisis. They usually stay at the center for an average of 6-8 months, said director of volunteer services, Kari Hanson. The goal at the center is to give women a temporary place to stay until they can transition to permanent housing, help them obtain sustainable employment and to live independently.
Hanson gave the group a tour of the center, showing everything from the kitchen to the technology center to the “boutique,” where residents get donated clothes. Mitzvah Day volunteers organized and sorted through the clothes, getting rid of the things that were in poor condition or out of style.
The center receives lots of donations during the summer, said Hanson, making it difficult for its two regular volunteers to sort through. Hanson said she was very thankful to the women in the Mitzvah Day group for volunteering. She said that the work the group of seven did in a matter of a few hours could have taken the regular volunters weeks to accomplish.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said volunteer Deilyn Osby Sande. “It was very good. I’m very, very, very glad I came.” She said she would definitely participate again.
“It was great. I really enjoyed it,” said the group’s leader, Becki Chandler. She said this was her first time participating in Mitzvah Day and she liked it because not knowing beforehand about Jubilee, she learned something new. She said she would also participate again.