The North Shore can look forward to a wave of tikkun olam over the next few months.
Teens with disabilities will participate in a Jewish community service day. Community members will learn how to make reusable bags from T-shirts at sustainability fair. Volunteers will make enough hamantashen and rugelach to feed over 250 needy people at My Brother’s Table in Lynn.
All of these projects will be spearheaded by the 2018 winners of the Derek M. Sheckman Teen Leadership Award, which for over 20 years has recognized Jewish teen leaders who have made a difference in the North Shore community. This year’s winners were announced at the Jewish Teen Initiative’s Community Action Day (then called J-Serve/North Shore Mitzvah Day) on April 22 of last year.
The award honors Derek Sheckman of Swampscott, who was one of two recipients of the North Shore Jewish community’s first Teen Leadership Award in 1996. Two years later, the inspirational Sheckman succumbed to cancer. He was 18.
The award, which grants recipients up to $1,000 to design and implement a service project in line with their talents and experience, has typically been given to only one winner. However, Gabe Miner, who helps administer the program on behalf of the Jewish Teen Initiative and works with award winners to develop their projects, said this year it was too difficult to choose just one.
“This last year we had three winners, because we felt that all three candidates were very deserving, and they were really addressing a variety of issues,” said Miner. “The teens who were running them were exceptional leaders. The nominations that we had from the rabbis and teachers who brought them to us really indicated a high level of maturity and intelligence, which was confirmed when we spoke with the three of them.”
One of the recipients is Haley Lakind, an 18-year-old senior at Swampscott High School. Lakind is the president of the school’s Innovators Club, which fosters connections between the larger student body and its special needs population.
Since taking over as president, Lakind has worked to reduce the isolation that special needs students can feel. “I’ve been trying to implement programs and activities that happen around the school for more people to meet them and get involved, and to just make them feel more confident about themselves and that they have a sense of home and community within the school,” said Lakind.
On Feb. 24, Lakind and other Innovators Club members made and sold coffee and desserts to raise money at a North Shore Philharmonic Orchestra concert held at Swampscott High. Lakind also has put together a Thanksgiving party, a Christmas cookie decorating party, and is in the process of planning a movie night. She plans to include members of the Innovators Club at the Jewish Teen Initiative and Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ Community Action Day on April 19.
Another award recipient is Kevin MacDonald, a 19-year-old from Beverly who is currently a freshman at Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston. During a high school internship with Salem Sound Coastwatch, an environmental nonprofit, MacDonald learned how to make reusable bags out of T-shirts. This will come in handy for residents of Beverly, where plastic bags have been banned in stores since January.
“Anyone can make them, because they don’t require sewing knowledge,” said MacDonald. “You can cut the sleeves of the shirt and use them as handles for the bag. You cut the collar off, so there’s room to put things in the bag, and then you make a fringe – you cut them into strips and then tie the strips together to close the seam.”
MacDonald has shared these skills at Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly – which his family attends, and whose rabbi, Alison Adler, nominated him for the award – with a Hebrew school class and during a session open to the community. These two sessions produced 20 reusable bags. MacDonald will run a third session on March 31, when the temple will host the Shomrei Adamah Festival, which will showcase the works of different local environmental groups.
More T-shirts are needed, so if you would like to donate any, you can email MacDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The final award recipient is Arly MackRosen, a 16-year-old junior at Marblehead High School, who was nominated by Rabbi David Meyer of Temple Emanu-El. For a long time, MackRosen has spent Thursday nights helping prepare food at Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead for the families of congregants who are sick or have a member who has recently passed away. She also has cooked and baked for many other temple occasions.
After this volunteer work won her a Sheckman Award, MackRosen decided to use her culinary skills to help the wider community. In January, 13 of her peers joined her to make rugelach and brownies to donate to My Brother’s Table. She plans to do three more of these cooking sessions in March, April, and May.
“It means a lot to me because I feel like I’m really privileged, and I always think about how every night and every day I have something for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and it’s hard to think how some people don’t necessarily have that,” said MackRosen. “So it means a lot to me to be giving back and helping people to make sure they have food and something sweet to enjoy after dinner.”
“We were excited about these three projects because they were rooted in things that winners were quite passionate about,” said Miner. “It seemed to us that these were projects that were not only values that we wanted to promote and live as a Jewish organization, but also we were just really impressed with the passion and excitement that the teens brought to these ideas.”
Nominations for the 2019 Derek M. Sheckman Award are open through March 20 and can be found at jewishteeninitiative.org.