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April 26, 2012 - Image 17

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-04-26

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

EMU students Ben Henig, Greg Stein,
Max Rashes, Kaitlin Winningham and

Robyn Cleary with Elana Weinstein, vol-
unteer coordinator at the Bottomless

Toy Chest and an EMU Hillel alumna

1 n My Back Yard

EMU Hillel stayed local for its Alternative Spring Break.

Miriam Eve Borenstein
Special to t he Jewish News


hen most people think of
spring break from college,
volunteering their week off
to help those in need usually doesn't top
the list. Yet, Hillel at Eastern Michigan
University has taken students to do just
that on Alternative Spring Breaks (ASB) in
places like Los Angeles, New Orleans and
Miami, where they partnered with orga-
nizations such as Jewish Funds for Justice
and Habitat for Humanity.
This year, Hillel at EMU's ASB oppor-
tunity remained local by volunteering
almost exclusively in Washtenaw County.
Hillel staff created and implemented what
is now called the IMBY (in my back yard)
approach, and it was a real adventure.
Why is it so important that students
work/learn locally? Many EMU and
Washtenaw Community College students
grew up in Washtenaw County or the sur-
rounding area, but have little grasp there is
a community in need right here. Knowing
how or where to help is another story. For
that reason, Hillel planned an ASB that
would change the way its students view
their town, the people in it and their role in
the community.
"The stakes were higher than on a tra-
ditional ASB to another city because our
students live here, yet didn't truly see the
needs all around them:' said Clara Silver,
Hillel at EMU executive director. "The goal
was not to merely make them respon-

At Food Gatherers in Ann Arbor: Robyn Cleary, Max Rashes, Kaitlin Winningham,
Ben Henig, Greg Stein and Miriam Borenstein, EMU Hillel engagement director.

sible and informed while they are here in
Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, but to extend
this desire to be active citizens beyond
their college years, and extending that
desire to wherever they go next.
"Above all, the goal of this trip was to
suggest to them that they don't have to
actually go anywhere to find people who
are in need, and a whole community that
needs servicing. There is always need right
around the corner, in our own backyard,
should we just be aware and willing to
perceive it."
Working on the "backyard" aspect,
the ASB group followed food on a

backwards path, all the way back to the
source of donation. First, they worked
with SOS Community Services in
Ypsilanti, packaging and giving out food
to those in need, showing the students
the end of a long journey that food
donations must make to actually reach a
Throughout the week, they unloaded
trucks at SOS from Food Gatherers in
Ann Arbor, packaged food to go on
trucks at Food Gatherers, and even
visited Zingerman's (from whom Food
Gatherers emerged) and learned about
its local sustainability program, fair

trade and much more
To get an idea of the scope of non-
profit volunteer opportunities in the
area, they also put in service hours at
Berkley-based Yad Ezra, the only kosher
food pantry in Southeast Michigan, and
at the Bottomless Toy Chest, a small
nonprofit in Bloomfield Hills providing
gifts to hospitalized children.
Hillel staff also incorporated lectures
and discussions facilitated by staff as
well as by members of the community,
including social workers, nonprofit
professionals, volunteer coordinators
and representatives from the Jewish
Federation of Greater Ann Arbor, Jewish
Family Services, Ozone House in Ann
Arbor and from multiple denominations
of the Jewish community. These con-
versations helped students understand
the scope of work that can be done, and
must be done, for these organizations to
thrive and really help the community.
The group also received a visit from
Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber at SOS
Food Pantry. His visit demonstrated the
difference one man can make by volun-
teering not just a few hours of his time,
or even a week, but part of his career to
civil service. Most of the students were
surprised to learn that mayor is a part-
time position, not his primary career.
A goal of the ASB experience was that
students left the week exhausted but
happy, having learned about opportu-
nities to volunteer locally and what it
takes to be an active, informed member
of the community.
"The experience helped me realize
you don't need to travel to be helpful:'
said Kaitiln Winningham of Dayton.
"After spring break, my return to school
did not have the finality of previous
trips. This time I wasn't coming home
from somewhere far away. I wasn't leav-
ing the people who needed help behind.
"When I heard my education honor
society, Kappa Delta Pi, was going to
help Food Gatherers, I jumped at the
chance to return. This time I helped
cook the Saturday meal. It was a won-
derful way to help for a few hours. It
also extended the learning I was intro-
duced to during spring break.
"People can be in need any time of
year, not just spring break. I will con-
tinue to help because of the experiences
that I have been privileged to partake

Miriam Eve Borenstein is engagement director
at Hillel at EMU.


Aprii 2$ 20'12


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