Yesterday, 53 Young Judaeans arrived in New Orleans and another 26 arrived in the Navajo Nation, Arizona for YJ's annual Alternative Winter Break: a unique five day program for Jewish teens to engage in enriching, intensive and transformative community service. Only a few hours into the program, the New Orleans contingent already made the local news.
Watch the video here:
NEW ORLEANS -- For a second year in a row, Jewish high school students from across the country are spending their winter break volunteering in New Orleans.
Monday, they were in the Holy Cross neighborhood, helping Georgia Johnson.
"I feel very special and very blessed to be picked for them to come and do something in my yard," said Johnson. "I have a big yard and I can't do very much myself."
The young people removed debris and weeds and cleaned up the wheelchair bound Johnson's property.
"A lot of the kids spend their break partying and hanging out with each other," said Merav David from New Jersey. "Last year, I really didn't do much, but this year I decided I have time, I have the power, why don't I just make a difference for someone else."
"It's awesome that we're doing this during Christmas because you see, like, people who are less fortunate, and they say for Christmas, I just want my family to have a better life, I want my house to repaired. And we're here, and we're going to make those Christmas wishes come true," said Anna Horowitz also from New Jersey.
The students say they were surprised that more than six years after Hurricane Katrina, the rebuilding continues in the hard hit areas of the city.
"Before I came here, I thought, oh New Orleans, they fixed it," said Horowitz. "It's been so many years after, there can't be anything bad, why am I coming here? Now, I'm here and I'm seeing, wow, this place really needs our help and all I want to do is help these people and make a difference in the world."
Another group of students spent the morning painting inside the Battle Ground Baptist Church on Flood Street in the Lower 9th Ward.
"It was humbling to see all the damage and people are still recovering from it years later," said Evan Coleman. "I'd just like to be able to help, to be able to make an impact on the world in some way, you know."
"You could be doing many things as far as enjoying yourself and young kids, there's many things you could be involved in beside helping someone, so I just thank God for what they have done and are still doing for New Orleans," said Battle Ground member Robert Jackson.
Alternative Winter Break is designed to help the teens learn first-hand about the issues affecting those who live in recovering and struggling areas.
"A lot of what we stand for is helping other people, peer leadership and working together," said David. "I think this really embodies what we're trying to do."
Georgia Johnson called the teens a gift from God.
"I'm so glad you all came down here," said Johnson. "You all volunteer for me, it makes my cry."
A second group of Young Judaea students are spending their winter break in Arizona participating in hands on service projects within the Navajo Nation.