News / USA

Putting Electronics Aside, Teens Focus on Helping Others

Putting Electronics Aside, Teens Focus on Helping Othersi
X
August 05, 2013 1:59 PM
Every summer for the past nine years, teenage volunteers from the Washington area come together to build a special project for a person with disabilities. During the week-long program, run by a local Jewish organization called Yachad, the teens learn valuable carpentry skills, as well as how it feels to help less fortunate members of their community. VOA’s Julie Taboh spent some time with this year’s volunteers.

Putting Electronics Aside, Teens Focus on Helping Others

Under the sweltering sun in a Washington suburb, a group of teenagers saws wood, drills holes and puts together the beginnings of a wheelchair ramp.

The teens are volunteers in an annual summer program organized by a local non-profit called Yachad. The group’s main mission is to repair the homes of low-income Washington-area residents.

Yachad Program Director Kendra Rubinfeld says they created a program called Ramp it Up! “to allow all of these teenagers throughout the area to come together and channel their energy into a project that’s outside, that makes them sweat and work really hard, learn carpentry skills, work power tools and build an accessibility ramp onto the home of a low-income family who is living with a person with a disability that is in need of an access ramp.”

Valuable hands-on skills

Under the guidance of professional contractors, the young volunteers spend a week learning valuable hands-on skills and, as Rubinfeld points out, a whole lot more.

“It goes beyond all of these construction skills, and it really turns into more of an understanding of what it’s like to be disabled as much as somebody who’s able-bodied can understand it,” she said.
Yachad's teen volunteers build a wheelchair ramp at the New Carrollton, Maryland, home of Herson Portillo, 21, who has had cerebral palsy since birth. (Julie Taboh/VOA)Yachad's teen volunteers build a wheelchair ramp at the New Carrollton, Maryland, home of Herson Portillo, 21, who has had cerebral palsy since birth. (Julie Taboh/VOA)
About halfway through their one-week project, the teens receive a day of what they call empathy training. They use wheelchairs and crutches to get a sense of the limitations facing people with disabilities.

Yachad partnered with American Jewish Society for Service (AJSS) and Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA) to develop and implement a curriculum that would lend insight on what it is like to live with disabilities and the importance of social service.

“What it allows us to do is put more meaning behind what the kids are doing,” Rubinfeld said, “and we feel it’s important for us to include that in the curriculum.”

'Rewarding feeling'

At first, Alex Kramer, 18,  felt like he’d much rather be laying on a couch in air conditioned comfort, “but after we finish the ramp, it’s just a rewarding feeling.”
 
Michael Greenberg, 17, finds volunteering for the ramp building project has been more rewarding than playing on an X-Box or PlayStation. “Although I do enjoy doing that, I think this is a good way to actually be hands-on.”

Dean Bregman, 17, has returned to volunteer with Yachad for the past three years.

“Right now I’m pretty exhausted,” he said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but in the end it’s very rewarding when you see the smile on the kid’s face when he comes down the ramp.”

End result

This year, that "kid" is Herson Portillo, 21, who has had cerebral palsy since birth.

Herson’s mother, Juana Hernandez, was overcome with emotion as Portillo was wheeled down his custom-built ramp for the very first time.

“I feel so happy to see the ramp that was finished. I don’t have the words to say [to] everyone. I don’t have the words to say how much... I mean I feel it,” Hernandez said. “Before, he has to climb steps, it was really hard for us because he’s getting bigger and heavier and when we were going up, it was dangerous for us. Now we are more safe.”

Herson’s father, Balmory Portillo, was grateful the ramp would now make life easier for everyone.

"I’m feeling happy,” he said tearfully. “Happy, very happy, so very happy…I never think something like that [was done] for my boy. It’s wonderful.”

Back for more

Witnessing such joy in a family has kept volunteer Ari Rickman coming back each summer.

“There’s a lot of charities, there’s a lot of problems in the world,” he said, “but it’s kind of rare to do something with your own two hands, and then actually see the difference that it makes.”

And that, says Rubinfeld, is what the program is really all about.
 
“I think they go into it thinking it’s going to be a normal summer program,” she said. “They come out of it saying, ‘I had so much independence on this project -- I really feel responsible for this thing that is changing someone’s life.’ And for that I think it’s a really special program.”

And for volunteers like Ari Rickman, it is an experience that may last a lifetime.
 
“I hope that when I grow up, I’ll either do something like this on the side, or I’ll have something as my career where I help people.”

You May Like

Beijing Warns Hong Kong Protesters, Cracks Down at Home

In suppressing protest news, China reportedly has arrested more than 20 people on the mainland who acted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters More

Competing Goals Could Frustrate Efforts to Fight Islamic State

As alliances shift and countries re-define themselves, analysts say long-standing goals of some key players in Middle East may soon compete with Western goals More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid