15 Years and Counting: AJWS Celebrates Milestone of Youth Volunteerism

January 7, 2009; New York, NY— American Jewish World Service (AJWS) will send dozens of volunteers, ages 16 to 24, to the developing world in June to kick off the 15th year of Volunteer Summer, a program widely-known for combining global service, activism and Jewish learning. 

AJWS is an international development organization motivated by Judaism’s imperative to pursue social justice. Through grants to grassroots organizations, volunteer service, advocacy and education, AJWS works to alleviate hunger, poverty and disease among people of the developing world regardless of race, religion or nationality. AJWS sends hundreds of volunteers to Asia, Africa and Latin America each year on various programs that enable them to learn firsthand how vulnerable communities confront the challenges of daily life. By engaging with members of these communities, program participants also deepen their appreciation for the interplay between Judaism and global citizenship.

Volunteer Summer is one of AJWS’s oldest volunteer programs. It offers Jewish young adults a year-long program of service and study, beginning with a 7-week assignment where participants work side-by-side with community-based organizations on projects that help build infrastructure and economic sustainability. Previous assignments have included laying irrigation systems, building schools and community centers and working on sustainable agriculture projects. During these group assignments, volunteers discuss the Jewish values underlying their work and meet with grassroots activists combating poverty and injustice. Over the past several years, AJWS has sent groups to Peru, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Uganda, India and Thailand.

Following the summer service component of Volunteer Summer, participants return home where they attend retreats and have opportunities for public speaking, writing, advocacy and local service throughout the year to keep them engaged with social activism on their campuses and in their local communities. The entire Volunteer Summer program encourages participants to sustain a life-long dedication to service and global justice. 

“Through the work I did with 13 other teenagers from across the United States … I became immersed in the daily struggles of people who lack most resources and opportunities to improve their lives—and learned what I could do to change that,” said Sarah Benowich, a 2008 Volunteer Summer participant that helped build a grain storage facility for Red COMAL, an AJWS grantee in Honduras. “Pushing wheelbarrows of gravel, mixing cement, and laying down rebar for a roof strengthened us physically … and ignited our desire to help the people we were working with. [Volunteer Summer] pushed me to rethink my religious beliefs, future life plans and personal relationships.”

AJWS offers several other volunteer programs in addition to Volunteer Summer. These include: World Partners Fellowship, an intensive 10-month volunteer service opportunity in India or Central America awarded to recent Jewish college graduates and young professionals; Alternative Breaks, 1- to 3-week long service programs for college students in partnership with Jewish campus-based organizations; and Volunteer Corps, which places professional Jewish women and men on volunteer assignments with local non-governmental organizations in developing countries.

All AJWS volunteer programs integrate the Jewish values of education and tikkun olam—repair of the world—into hands-on service experiences.

Applications for the 15th annual Volunteer Summer program are due February 2, 2009. To apply for Volunteer Summer and for more information on all AJWS service programs, visit: www.ajws.org/service

For More Information

If you are a member of the press and wish to obtain information about our work or speak to a member of our global team on deadline, please contact Tanyanika Davis, Director of Media Relations, at tdavis@ajws.org.