Monday, July 23, was a day of orientation and training for the 16 students chosen as interns for DOROT’s four-week Jewish Summer Teen Internship Program at the Riverdale Y Senior Center. Facilitated by Rabbi Joseph Robinson, director of community engagement, together with DOROT’s Jewish educator, Jennifer Levine, this highly competitive program pairs teens and seniors for learning and volunteer opportunities.
While DOROT’s goal in NYC is to prevent social isolation among senior citizens, with volunteers visiting and bringing meals to seniors in their own homes, the DOROT program at the Riverdale Y’s Senior Center brings teens to the center where seniors gather to engage in activities, dine together and socialize. The teen energy that’s brought to the Senior Center provides excitement and vigor as teens and seniors engage in an intergenerational experience. Seniors connect to the young people, who bring abundant enthusiasm to the program; the seniors are energized by the youthful volunteers.
Rising sophomores through rising seniors who identify as Jewish may apply for the internship through an application and screening process of extensive phone and group interviews. Most interns cover their own travel expenses, although stipends are available. Student applicants attend public or private schools and live in various areas of New York. Only about 25 percent of applicants are accepted into the program, and letters of completion and college recommendations are awarded at its conclusion. Interns also receive a free one-year membership to the Y’s fitness center and pool.
Each weekday morning interns gather at the Riverdale Y Senior Center for their daily assignments, and meet again at the end of the day with Levine to review their experiences and plan for new events. Most days interns join the Senior Center participants for lunch and social hours. The weekly group meetings provide opportunity for discussion and reflection. Interns volunteer in small groups and receive training, supervision and coaching in all their volunteer tasks. Programs such as Jewish short stories, Jewish perspectives on important issues in the news, arts and crafts, theatre arts, virtual reality and open tech help are popular parts of the experience.
Particularly empowering is the Dor L’Dor (Generation to Generation) scrapbook activity, as teens meet with a designated senior during the four weeks of the program, talking and learning about the life and experiences of the senior with whom they are paired. A scrapbook, compiled with creativity and originality by each intern, is presented to each senior at a concluding gala event. The teen interns also engage in a digital legacy project as they learn to interview older adults on camera.
Fifteen-year-old Rose Cohen is in the 10th grade at the Clinton School in New York City. She has volunteered for DOROT’s Meals on Wheels and was busy at work creating a year-end video for the concluding ceremony of this initiative. She considers her experience volunteering at the Riverdale Y Senior Center “beautiful, amazing, frightening and perfect.” She enjoys “getting connected” and hearing stories about what it’s like to have lived so many experiences in one’s lifetime.
Solomon Scheiner, a 17-year-old from Queens, is in the 12th grade at Cardozo High School and travels two hours each way to volunteer in the DOROT program in Riverdale. He sees his volunteering as a way to give back to the Jewish community. He spoke about his family’s experience with the Holocaust and his profound interest in Zionism. Scheiner hopes to join the Israeli army sometime in the future. He knows that this summer’s experience will enable him to enter college “with absolute confidence.”
As teen interns explore social justice and Jewish communal connections within the context of volunteering, they are enriched by the seniors with whom they are connecting. Interns are providing companionship and innovative programming for the seniors and are rewarded with gratitude and feelings of accomplishment as they transition back to their school environments.
The DOROT program is jointly funded by UJA-Federation of New York and the Jim Joseph Foundation. The Jewish Education Project serves as lead operator of the initiative.
By Yvette Finkelstein