When two Pleasantville teens joined J-Teen Leadership, a Jewish community service organization for teens, little did they know what they would experience thousands of miles away, and in their own backyards. Katie Connolly and Jackie Marra both joined four years ago to hoping to meet other Jewish teens and make a difference.
Connolly received the opportunity to see the devastation of Hurricane Katrina first-hand with her mother, which inspired her to join J-Teen.
My mom was involved with a program in New Orleans directly after Katrina. Shes a photographer she set up through the foundation kids with cameras she set up a program for kids in New Orleans in the FEMA trailer parks, Connolly said. I saw what she was doing and that branched into J-Teen.
Marra was inspired by tales of Connolly and her mom, and attended J-Serve, a national day of service for Jewish teens, typically held in April.
I kind of got started through Katie because her and her mom told me about it, Marra said. My first event was J-Serve going into eighth grade. It was at the Bronx Zoo with kids from an underprivileged school in the Bronx. We did several activities for them like a carnival theme and we took them around the zoo. Ever since then, Ive been getting involved more and more.
Connnolly, Marra and Sara Moskowitz, of Chappaqua, decided in 2010 to co-chair a trip to Nashville, Tennessee as a part of their year-long focus on flood relief.
Its a culture shock, Connolly said. We planted trees in the local elementary school and the kids that were helping were like, I cant go to college. My parents are forcing me to go into the army. We dont have enough money to go to college.
J-Teen, which is based out of White Plains, also does community service projects locally as well, helping to rebuild homes in Yonkers.
J-Teen is invested locally too, realizing that there are people who need help that are twenty minutes away, Connolly said. Ever since economically its gotten really tough for family we really try to focus locally so those trips so its important to realize there are people right around the corner that need help too.
These teens have learned more about themselves and others through the service they done here in Westchester county and throughout the country.
I think it really opens up your eyes and makes you remember what you have, Marra said. Its nice to know you can help those close and far.
Interested in getting involved? Visit www.jteenleadership.org .
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