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

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Video US Landmark Pushes Endangered Species

People gathered in streets, on rooftops in Manhattan to see image highlights that covered 33 floors of Empire State Building More

World’s Widest Suspension Bridge Being Built Over Bosphorus

Once built, Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge will span 2 kilometers with about 1.5 kilometers over water, and will be longest suspension bridge in world carrying rail system 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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs