I thoroughly enjoyed my time working with the Wexner Service Corps (WSC) in Pittsburgh. I have never participated in service work like this before. It made me more appreciative for all the opportunities I have. Partnering with Open Hand Ministries to work on the house renovation project was my favorite experience of the trip. Seeing the work and the difference we made in just two short days was very humbling. I knew the effort we put in would result in a beautiful home for a family who worked so hard to earn it.

Combining our hard work with Jewish thought and text in the sessions was a new experience that I greatly enjoyed. Seeing the connections that we could draw between the two gave me more of an understanding and appreciation for my religion and for service as well. What made the trip even more incredible was the fact that it was with other Jewish teens from Columbus. Creating new bonds and friendships through service was something new to me.  You quickly get to know someone and trust them when you are tearing down walls with crowbars and sledgehammers inches away from each other, or teaming up to more efficiently pull weeds in a garden. Working together on the service projects made it easy to have conversations with people that blossomed into friendships.

Sammie Kass is a rising junior at Columbus Academy and a member of Temple Israel.

I really enjoyed my trip with Wexner Service Corps because I got to meet new people who I have a lot in common with and I liked being able to see the difference we were making (for example: the garden plot we worked on, before and after). My favorite aspect of the trip was realizing that the amount of time and dedication we put into our service really made a difference. I learned that service is really what you make of it. If you approach service with a positive attitude and go in with fresh eyes, the outcome will be greater and you will feel better about the work you did. Also, don’t give up if service is hard. We talked a lot about privilege and I think that was a reality check for a lot of people in the group. We take so many things for granted and don’t realize the extent of our privilege. Going on WSC is a privilege, and I think realizing that, I wanted to work harder than I did the first day.

Romi Winston is a rising senior at Bexley High School and a member of Congregation Tifereth Israel.

My overall experience of the WSC trip was positive. It helped me open my eyes to new ways to help the Pittsburgh community and how that can apply to other places like Columbus. I liked interacting with people that came from nothing and still do everything in their power to help the people around them. I feel as though I am now more educated about complex issues such as gentrification and how it can be both positive and negative for a local community. Toward the end of the trip, I realized that we were only working on short-term, direct service projects and we talked extensively about how to make changes that are more permanent and lasting.

The whole experience was about learning from the people you’re helping or the people that are working with you to help so that you can help facilitate good deeds in other communities. As we learned from the Jewish texts, helping one person can truly help a whole world.

Leah Fogel is a rising junior at Olentangy Orange High School and a member of Temple Beth Tikvah.

I had an amazing experience filled with hands-on activities and wonderful learning opportunities. I felt as though I was making a huge impact on the community of Pittsburgh, while also learning about how the service we were doing was related to Judaism and the Torah. We worked with various organizations including Repair the World, Open Hand Ministries and Circles. Through these organizations we learned the value of serving WITH others instead of FOR others and how important it is to approach the service work with the same care and attention as if you were on your own behalf. Whether volunteering at a construction site to help build a house for a family, weeding a public garden or cooking food for many families, we learned that all service is important, no matter how big or small the act might be. The WSC program educates young Jewish teenagers to be active in their communities and be leaders in service and helping others less fortunate than themselves.

I especially loved the nightly Jewish learning sessions. Learning with Zoe Jick, our Senior Leader Cohort (SLC) educator, and the other SLC members was an eye-opening experience. Our conversations varied from discussing rap music as an instrument of social change, to debating the identity of the Jewish people and whether or not we, as Jews, fall under the category of “white.” We learned about what motivates Jews to do community service, which in turn helped us reflect on why we specifically are motivated to do community service. I was always so engaged in the conversations we had and the learning sessions left me always wanting to learn more about the Torah and my Jewish heritage. This is an opportunity that many people are not fortunate enough to participate in. With an open mind and a positive attitude, this trip will be one of the most meaningful and exciting experiences that a Jewish teenager will ever experience. Do not pass up on this because it might seem like too much work, or you don’t have enough time. Community service is so important and if you make it a priority, you will have time. I wholeheartedly recommend applying because you will not see another opportunity like this.

Haley Bernstein is a rising senior at Bexley High School and a member of Torat Emet Synagogue. Haley is part of the Senior Leadership Cohort in her second year with the Wexner Service Corps.

Going on WSC was really cool and unique. Cool because I got to do service with fellow Jews, and unique because I don’t have a lot of Jewish friends and now I do. I also learned a lot more about the issues cities like Pittsburgh face concerning food deserts and gentrification. One of the most important parts of the trip to me was the time we had to socialize with other Jewish teens. There are not a lot of Jews in Pickerington so this helped me make friends with Jews from all around the Columbus area and feel more connected to the local Jewish community. One thing I learned is the importance of recognizing that we serve with local partners and not for them. It is all about recognizing their dignity. I also learned that there are a variety of Judaic texts that may disagree about the specific idea of service, but they all agree that we need to some type of service.

Daniel Griffaton is a rising junior at Pickerington North High School and a member of Temple Beth Shalom.

I met tons of new people on the trip from all areas of Columbus that I wouldn’t have otherwise met. This strengthened my appreciation for the Jewish community in Columbus by helping me create new bonds that I can continue to strengthen going forward. This trip affected my understanding of community service by teaching me that we’re not working for the community, but we’re working with the community. This was taught through the various lessons and the realization that there were people giving up time in their day to work with us, and it wouldn’t have been possible without their help. From the Jewish learning sessions, one point that really stuck with me is the fact that since we’re all fortunate enough to not worry about meals, to buy new clothing and to do fun things, we need to give back to the community. These discussions affected my experience of the trip in a really positive way because they connected Jewish learning and my Jewish identity with what we were doing each day and they really pushed us all to think in different ways.

Mara Sanderow is a rising junior at Olentangy Orange High School and a member of Temple Beth Tikvah.

The Wexner Service Corp trip to Pittsburgh was truly a rewarding experience for me. From meeting new people and creating new group bonds to completely gutting and demolishing a house — each day of the trip was packed with amazing opportunities. My favorite part of the trip was getting to know the local people running each service site and organization. We were able to listen to their stories and form stronger connections to the community in which we served. This trip gave me an opportunity to broaden my circle of Jewish peers. I met many new people and reconnected with some familiar faces, which was very refreshing. This trip completely changed my view of community service. While our work did not fix problems for the entire city of Pittsburgh, we were able to do a small part in helping to create more permanent fixes behind the scenes. I also learned helping people is only one aspect of community service. Through our work at the Frick Environmental Center, we worked on service projects that help the environment. An important aspect of the trip for me was that I learned how much of an integral part Judaism plays in our service that we do every day. I went into each day of the trip knowing that what I was doing was not just helping the world but also helping me spiritually and religiously.

Avigayil Rosenberg is a rising junior at Columbus Torah Academy and a member of Torat Emet Synagogue.

I absolutely loved the WSC Pittsburgh trip! I made new friends, participated in meaningful service projects and learned more about community service in a Jewish context. I definitely have a new appreciation of the Columbus Jewish community. Coming from Upper Arlington, I did not know anyone on this trip. I was extremely nervous about that, but I branched out and eventually met some really nice people from all over Columbus. We were assigned random bus buddies in the morning and always encouraged to meet new people. WSC feels like a great community of Jewish teens and participating helped to strengthen my own sense of Jewish community immensely. One thing I learned is that community service is about serving WITH people not FOR people. I thought that was a very important point. The discussions opened my mind and helped me understand the different ways that Judaism interprets service. One message of our learning was that Judaism teaches us that one life is as valuable as a whole world. You cannot put a price on a life. I found this fascinating and it helped me appreciate everyone we met during the course of the week. You will not regret participating in WSC. You will get smarter and be better able to serve others. It’s a great experience! I am so thankful that I was a part of this trip! It was an absolute blast, and I cannot wait for the rest of the WSC year.

Lily Goldberg is a rising senior at Upper Arlington High School and a member of Congregation Tifereth Israel.

I thought participating in WSC was overall a very enlightening experience. My favorite aspect of the trip was meeting new people from all different parts of Columbus. I was able to make several new friends that I have become very close with since the end of the trip to Pittsburgh. This trip helped me connect with other Jewish teens by letting us work together in an environment where you have to trust each other a lot. Working with others in that type of an environment builds a bond that I believe is hard to get any other way. This allowed me to meet many new people in the Jewish community that I didn’t even know about. It also gave me a deeper appreciation for the Jewish community and made me realize it’s important for us to interact with each other because we are such a small part of society. This trip affected my understanding of community service as something deeper than just repairing a house or garden. Community service is about bringing people together and helping families become stronger and healthier in their environments.

Leo Schottenstein is a rising junior at Bexley High School and a member of Torat Emet Synagogue.

The WSC trip to Pittsburgh was incredible. We worked on many new types of service that we had not participated in this past year, such as tearing down houses and many different types of gardening. The Repair the World fellows were truly passionate about what they were doing, as were all the members of the WSC cohort. It was amazing to be able to spend five days with so many people dedicated to helping others and willing to put in hard work and effort at every service site. Before WSC I had always sort of assumed that I knew most of the people in the Columbus Jewish community, however I didn’t realize that I hardly knew anyone from the west side and almost no one who was Orthodox. WSC changed that and gave me a much better understanding for and appreciation of the diversity of the Columbus Jewish community.

Emily Munster is a rising senior at Columbus Academy  and a member of Congregation Tifereth Israel. Emily is part of the Senior Leadership Cohort in her second year with the Wexner Service Corps.