It is truly difficult to say who is getting the most out of the DOROT summer program, the seniors or the vivacious, charismatic teen volunteers. Not only is the atmosphere charged with enthusiasm, but watching the camaraderie that develops among the seniors and the kids is a sight to behold.
In NYC, DOROT’s goal is to prevent social isolation among senior citizens, and so DOROT volunteers visit and bring 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, have meals together and socialize. The energy the teens bring to the Senior Center provides excitement and vigor as teens and seniors engage in intergenerational experiences. Seniors connect to young people, reveling in the enthusiasm the kids bring to the program. The teen volunteers get to learn about other people’s lives—their dreams, their experiences, their families, their hopes, their challenges.
Judith Turner, senior program officer, volunteer services and intergenerational programs, Manhattan, explained that the Jewish Summer Internship Program was launched in 2015. Currently, there are three summer programs: DOROT’s Jewish Summer Teen Internship in Manhattan, Jewish Summer Teen Internship Program in Riverdale and Summer Teen Internship Program in Manhattan (secular program). The programs receive over 500 applications. The application process for these highly-sought-after internships consists of completing an application form, followed by extensive phone and group interviews. This summer, Manhattan welcomed 21 interns; Riverdale hosted 16.
Rabbi Joseph Robinson is the lead facilitator and educator at the Riverdale Y, guiding the teens through the program. Rabbi Robinson explained that he conducts educational workshops, serves as a connector between DOROT’s values and services and those of the Riverdale Y and helps guide and direct the teens. Each week two sessions are conducted with the teens: Shaharit and Ma’ariv. Shaharit takes place on Monday and provides a forum for planning the week’s activities. A Jewish theme is selected and referred to during the week’s activities. Ma’ariv takes place on Thursday afternoons and provides teens with the chance to reflect on their week and debrief.
Rabbi Robinson demonstrated how a theme is utilized within a group as a jumping off point for further discussion. Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai taught a parable about a group of people who were on a ship. One of them took out a drill and started making a hole beneath his own seat. The others said to him, “What are you doing?” He responded, “What do you care? Am I not drilling beneath myself?” The others responded, “The water will start rising and drown the whole boat” (Vayikra/Leviticus Rabba 4:6). The theme of areyvut or social responsibility encouraged much discussion, with teens guiding the process, as they learned to do in their workshops.
Teens are provided with the tools to facilitate workshops and encourage discussion. Watching a group of people tackling a large “coloring project” provides opportunities for discussion, with seniors sharing their experiences in a relaxed, casual setting. A poetry workshop, guided by Deborah Kolb, likewise inspired discussion among the participants, as they compared the poetry to their own lives and experiences. Kolb feels that “older adults bring a sense of curiosity and absolute presence to (these) workshops. They immerse themselves in the poems we read, in discussion for the works, in their own experiential writing.”
The number of seniors in the Riverdale Y DOROT program changes daily, but the total is around 200. Some seniors come to multiple activities per week, some consistently make it to one specific activity per week and some simply participate by having lunch with the teens every day. An innovation this year had teen volunteers telephoning seniors reminding them about the next day’s programs and placing calls after the day’s program to keep the connections alive. Rabbi Robinson shared that “this is the first year we are using (our program) as a model for future DOROT programs. DOROT’s goal is to expand their intergenerational summer programs to areas outside of New York City and even outside of the state.”
Melitta Oppenheim, almost 16, is a junior at Bruriah High School and travels back and forth from New Jersey every day to attend the program. Oppenheim noted that she applied to the program because “I wanted to have the experience of working and talking with seniors because they are our living history and, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to have these adult conversations with my great-grandparents.” She enjoys listening to the seniors opinions regarding politics and their views on current events. In addition, she also enjoys playing and teaching the seniors bingo as well as doing arts and crafts with them. Oppenheim explained that one of the things she had to learn was how to respectfully interrupt older people, due to time limits, when she was leading discussions. She loved meeting, planning and working with “such a great group of interns.”
Entering 10th grade at the High School of American Studies at Lehman College in the Bronx, Rebecca Friedman decided to work with DOROT because she is aware that many seniors face social isolation and she thought this program would help her to devote her time to a meaningful cause. Friedman, who feels this program has been educational, meaningful and fun, explained that the womens’ group was especially important to her. “It was a casual discussion around a table in which women of several generations talked about their experiences. It was amazing to hear how things have changed over time for women from the people who watched that evolution and contributed to it.” She enjoyed connecting with the seniors. As she said, “Sitting with the same seniors for lunch encouraged the formation of strong bonds of friendship.”
Wanting an intergenerational experience where she could contribute and learn together with others was the motivation for Bebe Yaffe’s application to the DOROT teen internship program. Yaffe is 16 years old and is entering her junior year at Brooklyn Friends School. She shared, “I’ve always had empathy and respect for seniors but this program has definitely made me realize that age does not define a person. In fact, I have been so amazed by all that I have learned from people that are more than 50 years older than I am. It’s been a remarkable life experience.” Yaffe continued, “I never could have imagined the depth of the connections that I’ve made with the elders. I am appreciative and grateful to have had this experience.” She would recommend this program to her peers “in a heartbeat” and thinks everyone could benefit from the bonds she has made with “these lovely seniors.”
The concluding session of the program, called Siyyum, was celebrated on August 14. The Siyyum was a night for the teens to celebrate all they had accomplished during the internships. Rabbi Robinson extolled the importance of the Siyyum as it “gives the teens an opportunity to show their gratitude to the seniors they’ve worked alongside and to display to their families the amazing work they do and the growth they have undertaken.”
By Yvette Finkelstein