By Adam Gerber
AJSS Portland’s 25 Days of Change had another productive week serving the Portland community. While some participants framed a house for Habitat for Humanity, others helped build a playground for the Friendly House. Each passing six-hour workday definitely brought us closer together.
But this week, we also examined what our role is in Portland. Do we represent the Jewish community? Are we helping them? Or are we stereotypical high school volunteers who sometimes help, but who are often just in the way? Well, a member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland joined us for lunch one day, and helped answer those questions. He familiarized us with his organization, and helped us better understand exactly how our efforts are helping people in the Portland community. He explained why it’s so important for Jewish communities and organizations, like AJSS, to reach out to places across the country, especially in towns where Judaism is very scarce. And the best way for community outreach is through immersive service projects, like ours, that actually have an impact on the community.
By reaching out to local organizations, Jewish volunteers are able to leave their mark on a community in a positive, lasting way. Sometimes we’re not sure how locals are going to receive us as a group of outsiders coming to help out their community. But the truth is, everyone who worked for Habitat, Friendly House, PCUN and every other organization we’ve volunteered with were extremely friendly and interested in talking to us and learning what AJSS is all about! Getting a chance to talk to locals gave us a sense of what Portland is really like, and made us feel truly welcome.