by Alex Taglieri
During the first week of high school, my principal gave my class the guidelines and requirements for getting accepted into National Honor Society. Besides a high GPA and teacher recommendations, I would need at least 150 hours of community service and leadership. Then I got to Hebrew school and was told that I needed an additional 18 hours of service for confirmation. It all seemed very daunting. A year and a half ago, that seemed like an impossible amount of time spent doing volunteer work. I started my service early and have since learned much more than what could ever be taught to me in school.
Growing up in Monmouth County, I would come into school and constantly be jealous of my classmates’ clothes, amongst many other things. Recently, I have been volunteering at a soup kitchen in Asbury Park. On our way to the soup kitchen, we drive through the streets of the town and see people who live in dilapidated houses who are struggling to pay the bills as well as pay for food and other essentials. Going to the soup kitchen and seeing how happy these people become when they receive a warm meal is priceless. Every week, a group of small children come into the soup kitchen by themselves, giggling. They are always excited to be there and love talking to me and the other volunteers. When everyone else is filing out the doors, they are the last to leave and want to stay longer. Their joy about things that I take for granted, like a homemade meal and people to share it with, remind me how fortunate I am. Deuteronomy 15:8 tells us to give enough tzedakah to meet all the needs of the poor, and I feel as if I am fulfilling that mitzvah when I go to the soup kitchen.
In addition to helping humans, I have always found it important to help animals. Since animals cannot speak for themselves or help themselves, I feel the need to be their voice. I have been involved in events at the Monmouth County SPCA for a few years and always enjoy it. I have taken part in charity dog walk events and donate to various
organizations. Too many people forget about animals or treat them cruelly, and I always try to remember animals and take good care of my pets.
I am part of a program in my school, the Multicultural Club, with the main mission of helping others. During the holiday season, a group of underprivileged children come to our school for a few hours to spend time with us. We give them gifts and put on a show for them. For some of these children, the gifts we give are the only ones they will receive during that season. As they open their gift baskets and take out crayons, puzzles, and books, their faces light up. It’s always fulfilling knowing that we are positively impacting these children’s lives. The club has events throughout the entire year, and all of the money raised goes to the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. I am always eager to give to the club knowing it can save someone’s life.
When I give to others through community service, I always receive something. If I walk into an animal shelter, soup kitchen, or senior center feeling stressed, I know that I will feel happy when I leave. It feels awesome knowing that I am helping someone, and I love seeing people’s joy about my work. When a grandmother tells me about her childhood or a child tells me about their dreams with a huge smile on their face, it brings me an unexplainable sense of pride and accomplishment. When a dog wags its tail at me or someone thanks me profusely while shaking my hand, my bliss matches theirs.
Even after I complete my 150 hours of community service, I know that I will continue to do volunteer work. I will keep helping with the temple, aiding students and assisting in the Purim carnival. It is truly better to give than receive. Too many negative things happen in this world every day and it makes me feel good to try to spread more happiness and positivity.