The following is a letter that Rabbi Elka Abrahamson, President of The Wexner Foundation, shared with the second cohort of the Wexner Service Corps, our Columbus-based teen service-learning initiative, on their final night of their Jewish service-learning trip to New Orleans last week:

Dear Wexner Service Corps!

I have to be in New York first thing tomorrow morning for an all day meeting and the last flight out meant my reluctant departure prior to tonight’s celebration of a remarkable and grand week.  I am immensely disappointed to be missing this festive dinner and, most of all, so sorry I cannot look each of you – each and every sun burned, bug bitten, varnish stained, goat poopy, over tired, weed whacked out, fume bleary, construction queen and king one of you in the eye and tell you personally “thank you!”  

Thank you for taking 5 days out of your summer to journey to a neighborhood a hurricane devastated and a decade has pretty much left alone in its disarray.

Thanks for helping a community work its way out of its woes.  

Thank you for bringing energy and physical strength to plots of lands and living rooms, libraries and gardens that would otherwise be left weedy and unfinished.  

Welcome, you are now officially (or once again back) on the service train and together with Ruthie Warshenbrot, Rabbi Ben Berger, Rabbi Megan Goldman, Rabbi Michael Emerson, Liz Meyers, Abby Newburger and Rob Gleisser (who will be working on becoming Rabbi Rob) we urge you: never jump off. We hope and want you to speak about the experience, quote the texts, tell stories about Turner, Steve, Tim, Rog, Warrenetta, Burnelle’s grocery store and repeat the conversations that have inspired you this week.  Be advocates, and we invite you to become a volunteer addict.  Remember that no job is too small and that a whole bunch of small tasks when diligently taken care of can add up to completed work over 4 days. 

You guys were amazing. You worked through heat, humidity, bugs, and more heat.  Nothing of this week’s work was particularly glamorous or required special skill. But you guys just pushed through.  You drank water (nobody dehydrated which is amazing) and you barely complained about lunch.  Let me tell you all –  I love this program.  I do!  I love the Wexner Service Corps and I love working with The Wexner  Foundation team (special thanks to Ruthie and Rav Ben for pulling all of this together with Liz) and I am inspired by you!  By all of you. I know I do not need to take this week to do this and know that you are in good hands without me. 

Lots of people wonder why I take the time out of a fairly demanding schedule and join you. The answer is simple.  I want to serve at your sides and because of our work together I remember the singular power of serving.  And you inspire me with your dedication, energy, insight and laughter. So thanks for putting up with me.  I needed this week.

I will see you back home in Columbus and there too we can paint the town.

Mazal tov Wexner Service Corps. You make us all feel like the Jewish world is in good – if bruised and blistered – hands.