Despite requiring an early wake-up call on the weekends, 14-year-old Roland Liu was excited to start volunteering with the J’s Mitzvah Corps during the Volunteer Challenge this spring. His hesitations quickly fell away as he got more comfortable at the Rainier Valley Food Bank, sorting and packing boxing of food for distribution to families in need. “The people were nice and welcoming,” he said. “The more I worked with them the more comfortable I got. It was fun.”
His dad, Charlie, was impressed with how eagerly Roland embraced the experience. “He learned so quickly! He was teaching me how to do it. Suddenly he’d packed 20 boxes, and I’d only done five,” he said with a laugh.
The Hebrew word “mitzvah” means “commandment,” but is often colloquially used to mean “good deed.” Doing good deeds in one’s community is a strong Jewish—and SJCC—value. When the J launched the Mitzvah Corps in the summer of 2020, the goal was to offer opportunities for community members to help their neighbors, from cooking food for teens experiencing homelessness to cleaning up local parks.
Over the past three months, 15 families joined the Volunteer Challenge, selecting from a variety of in-person and at-home volunteer activities. In the end, the Liu family took first place, participating in six different events since January.
It was a great learning opportunity for both father and son—especially Roland, who, like most kids hasn’t had many chances to socialize over the past few years during the pandemic. “These opportunities have been great for getting kids out in the open air, in their community, and around other people,” Charlie said.
Lauren Cho-Hockley’s family also participated in the Volunteer Challenge, in part because Mitzvah Corps is one of the rare organizations that curates volunteer opportunities for kids under age 16. Lauren’s sons are 12 and 15, and they’ve been volunteering with Mitzvah Corps for the past year. “I love that our entire family can participate,” she said.
The Cho-Hockleys are regulars at the Dinner at Our House program, making meals for YouthCare, an organization that helps teens experiencing homelessness. Lauren hopes that these opportunities open her kids’ eyes to the different circumstances people experience. “We live in a microcosm of wealth and privilege on Mercer Island, and I want them to understand that’s not all there is,” she said.
Charlie appreciates sharing these lessons with Roland as well. “It’s helping him think deeper about the community and shows him there are ways he can make a difference.”
Roland has already felt the impact. “It’s helped me appreciate what I have. It’s a humbling experience,” he said. “You’re helping other people and you get to see the immediate impact of what you’re doing.”
Lauren hopes her family’s Mitzvah Corps experiences teach her kids about the value of giving back and start them on a path of lifelong volunteerism. “I want this to be a jumping off point for their future as civic-minded individuals,” she said. “As they get older, I hope they find their own ways to give that speak to their hearts.”