A Guardian Angel for Homeless Couples
Every year from mid-October through the end of April, The Temple in
Atlanta offers some 50 homeless couples complimentary housing, food, and
programming in its Zaban Couples Center next door to the synagogue. The center
provides breakfast, and dinner is prepared and served by volunteers from nearby
temples and churches. The couples—selected on a first-come, first-served
basis—can take free weekly classes on strengthening marriage/marriage prospects
and financial management, attend Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous
meetings, and receive couples counseling cosponsored by Morehouse College. “We
often find that the longer a couple stays and participates in the entire
seven-and-a-half-month program, the more likely the two are to successfully
transition to permanent housing,” says Linda Davis, the chair of the center’s
Board of Trustees.
The center opened in 1984 during a very cold winter
that claimed the lives of several homeless war veterans. A suggestion that The
Temple help homeless Atlantans coincided with funding the temple board had just
set aside for a yet-to-be-determined tzedakah project. The shelter
became that project.
Over the years, the program has grown in size and
scope. The first year, seven couples were sheltered overnight in The Temple’s
religious school classrooms, requiring the maintenance staff to convert
classrooms into “homes” after school and then back again. Congregational
volunteers provided all of the programmatic support.
In 2008, with financial backing from the congregation as well as government
and foundation grants, the expanding center hired an executive director and a
case manager. In the next phase, the center hopes to develop strategic alliances
with other agencies to enhance the scope of services provided.
you quantify what it means to participate in a ‘project’ that helps a person get
clean and sober, find a job, and reunite with his or her children and
grandchildren?” Davis says. Of the many letters the Zaban Couples Center has
received, she especially treasures this one: “Thank you for being my guardian
angel. I moved to Atlanta from New Orleans and shortly after arriving found
myself homeless and at the lowest point I had ever been in my entire life.
During my three months at the Center I was fed, clothed, employed, and went
through counseling. Since leaving I have had four beautiful children, moved back
to New Orleans, and started at the Loyola School of Law. Thank you for giving me
a new lease on life and the ability to follow the dreams I have always held
close to my heart.”
For more information: www.zabancouplescenter.org.
Hydrate a Child & Save a Life
To help fight
worldwide dehydration/diarrhea—one of the top five causes of children’s death in
developing countries, killing 1.5 million youngsters annually—Beth El Hebrew
Congregation in Alexandria, Virginia sponsors an all-day community-building
project in which volunteers from the temple, local synagogues and churches, high
schools, universities, a senior center, a local Rotary Club, and other
organizations assemble Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT) packets—small bags
comprised of salt, sugar, baking soda, and potassium to be distributed to
children in refugee camps worldwide. At each table, 6–8 people bag the measured
ingredients in an assembly-like fashion. In the six years that Beth El has held
the event, 87,000 packets have been assembled—20,000+ this year alone. For every
one million ORT packets distributed, an estimated 14,000 lives are saved.
To organize an ORT event at your congregation, Beth El recommends recruiting
as many volunteers as possible (it takes 200+ people to assemble 20,000 kits in
a day), but starting with a much smaller kit goal, as Beth El did at first,
knowing they could still make a significant impact—and the project would grow.
For more information, contact ORT project chair Bobbie Gershman, email@example.com.
Thanksgiving “Turkey Train”
Every November, Temple
Kol Ami in Scottsdale, Arizona provides Thanksgiving dinners to hundreds of
Phoenix-area families in need. Dozens of participating families bring frozen
turkeys to designated collection sites. Then, on the last Sunday before
Thanksgiving—otherwise known as Turkey Train Day—whole families gather together,
forming a “turkey train” or brigade-like line and passing the donated frozen
turkeys one by one until all are loaded into trucks and vans for delivery to
local food banks.
Last Thanksgiving, Kol Ami also inspired other local
synagogues and churches to organize Turkey Train events, resulting in 400
donated turkeys—and every congregational group is now onboard for the 2010
“Rabbi B. Charles Herring’s initiative brings communities together,” says
Cantor Raina Sinclair, “reminding us how much we have to be thankful for.”
Retirees’ Mitzvah Corps
Temple Emanuel of South Hills, Pittsburgh has engaged a group of 19+
temple members who are retired (or about to retire) in performing
mitzvot that are making a difference to their temple community.
Since its inception in June 2009, TERMS (Temple Emanuel Retirees in Mitzvah
Service) has performed a complete physical inventory of the synagogue building,
cleaned up the Temple Emanuel cemetery, designed and built a sanctuary
sukkah in partnership with the Brotherhood, preserved books, read to
the congregation’s nursery school children, and more. In the process, TERMS
participants have formed friendships and a sense of community within the larger
To learn more: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moms Valerie Franklin and Cheryl Friedenberg of Congregation Beth Or in Maple
Glen, Pennsylvania have launched The Mitzvah Bowl to
connect bar/bat mitzvah students in the greater Philadelphia area to local
organizations and social action initiatives they can explore for their bar/bat
mitzvah project. Unique to their initiative is a search function that allows
young people to find projects in line with their own interests, increasing the
chance that they will be passionate about their mitzvah choice. For
instance, a student enthusiastic about technology can work with Jewish Family
and Children’s Services, setting up weekly visits to an area nursing home and
teaching residents how to surf the web.
To learn more: www.themitzvahbowl.com.