“I noticed that almost all of the mitzvah projects that kids were doing benefited secular causes,” Schwarz said. “It made me start to think if we don’t support Jewish causes for our bar and bat mitzvah projects, when would we support a Jewish cause?”Schwarz, who currently serves as committee chair for the Valley of the Sun JCC's J Teen Connect AZ of Greater Phoenix, concluded that part of the problem was the lack of a central place to learn about and connect with such opportunities within the Valley’s Jewish community. In June 2017, she began working on what would eventually become the Mitzvah Hub.Through her role with J Teen Connect — which aggregates and shares Jewish teen programing, organizations and other opportunities from around the Valley — Schwarz knew how much work such a project would require. She reached out to Rabbi Elana Kanter, founder and director of the Women’s Jewish Learning Center, in hopes that one of the participants in the center’s Women’s Leadership Institute would help her with the project.Initially, the project was envisioned as a booklet called the Jewish Community Mitzvah Project Booklet that rabbis could give to bar and bat mitzvah students. Soon, other groups began contacting Schwarz offering to help.
One of those who stepped up to the plate was Jody Goldman, volunteer coordinator for JFCS. She was familiar with a similar project from Jewish Family Service of Greater Dallas. Goldman and JFCS eventually took the lead on the project and decided to create an internet site rather than a booklet.
“That’s where it kind of morphed into this portal,” Goldman said. “It really was to benefit organizations in the Jewish community and to raise awareness of the importance of supporting Jewish needs both locally and around the world, as well as Jewish organizations irrespective of the religion of their beneficiaries, which are consistent with Jewish values.”
Goldman said the project’s development is unfolding in two stages. This summer, they are contacting organizations and building a library of potential volunteer opportunities. In the fall, they will launch the public-facing side of the project, which will consist of volunteer opportunities organized by category and include the most up-to-date contact information.
From her counterpart in Dallas, Goldman learned that the biggest challenge is updating the list, which will require a number of time-consuming steps. To avoid such complications, Goldman worked with Calvin Wilkins, visual communications specialist for JFCS, to create a platform that would be both easy for users to navigate and for the organization to keep current.
For the fiscal year ending in summer 2017, JFCS had 115 individual volunteers and 300 group volunteers who provided a total of 3,794 service hours, equivalent to roughly $90,000, according to Goldman. JFCS is one of the roughly half-dozen organizations currently registered with Mitzvah Hub, but Goldman hopes to have between 15 and 20 included by fall.
Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix CEO Marty Haberer said he is looking forward to the new website helping the Jewish community.
“The Federation was very excited about every aspect of the project, from the way it bubbled up from a caring volunteer like Jennifer to its collaborative nature,” Haberer said. “The idea of the Mitzvah Hub, where there is one-stop shopping for people, whether they’re students needing to fulfill service hours or bar and bat mitzvah-age kids, I just think it’s good customer service to the community.”
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PHOTO COURTSEY OF : gateways.org