The Teen Heroes column is sponsored by the Helen Diller Family Foundation. To learn more about the foundation’s $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, visit http://dillerteenawards.org.
WASHINGTON (JTA) — Working with limited equipment through heat and humidity, Jade Marcus and Jared Rothstein bonded with peers as they tested their physical limits building a soccer field from scratch in an impoverished Nicaraguan village this summer.
The 17-year-olds, seniors at The Wheatley School who hail from Nassau County on Long Island, N.Y., joined 16 other Jewish teens from across the United States to participate in the Union for Reform Judaism’s Mitzvah Corps, a program that connects Reform Jewish teens with immersive social action opportunities across North America.
“It was the most intensive labor that I’d ever done,” Marcus said, “but it was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
The teens spent 10 days in the Latin American country and eight days in the village of El Castillo, which took a full day of travel to reach. They worked alongside Nicaraguan teens shoveling, digging and mixing cement often without boots, gloves or shovels, said Rothstein.
It was the village’s lack of proper construction and sports equipment that motivated Marcus and Rothstein to continue their service work after they returned home.
“We want to fix this problem,” Rothstein said. “Jade and I started planning from Nicaragua how we were going to help.”
The teens launched an online donation site that they posted to social media and sent out via email to nearly 1,000 friends and family, as well as members of their synagogue, Temple Sinai in Roslyn, N.Y. In addition, they will raise money by selling tickets for a party with their classmates and organizing a basketball-toss booth at the synagogue’s Mitzvah Day event.
They have set a goal of raising $7,500 for the equipment and will purchase the goods in Nicaragua when they return in February.
“Seeing how appreciative the people [of El Castillo] were by our just helping out” was deeply meaningful, Rothstein said. “We had so little in common. yet we had so much to bond over.”
Marcus added that the experience with Mitzvah Corps gave her an appreciation and perspective beyond what she could give to the village.
“What we have [materially] doesn’t make people happy,” she said. “It’s community and the strength of family and friends.”
The teens spoke to JTA about their heroes, what they want to be when they grow up and their advice for raising money for a service project.
JTA: Who’s your hero and why?
Marcus: My mom. She is one of the strongest people in my life and has always supported me and made me the person that I am today.
Rothstein: The youth director at my temple. She introduced me to [Mitzvah Corps] and is why I’ve developed a passion for community service.
What do you think are important qualities of a hero?
Marcus: Heroes aren’t afraid to go against what other people say. They have perseverance through all odds and go to the limit. They are also approachable and someone you want to talk to and share confidences with.
Rothstein: Setting a good example for people and showing you what’s possible.
What is your favorite Jewish holiday?
Marcus: Rosh Hashanah, because it’s the start of the new year. You can cleanse yourself of your sins and lay out what you’re going to do in the new year.
Rothstein: Hanukkah. My whole family comes together and has a good time.
What would you like to be when you grow up?
Marcus: A chemical and environmental engineer. I would like to work on water purification and sustainability issues for developing countries.
Rothstein: I’d like to be a mechanical engineer. I’ve always liked hands-on work and building things.
What sort of things do you like to do for fun?
Marcus: Soccer, art and volunteering.
Rothstein: I’ve played baseball my entire life and I do community service.
What advice would you give to other teens interested in launching a fundraising campaign for a service project?
Marcus: Before doing a fundraiser, ask yourself how much time do you have? What do you want to achieve, and what are you doing that is making a difference?
Rothstein: Go for it despite any negativity. Have perseverance and a goal and keep going for it.
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