For the past year, I have been volunteering for i-Shine, Chai Lifeline’s after-school program for children living with illness or loss in their family. I’m currently a senior at Ma’ayanot. When I was a junior, the heads of i-Shine Teaneck came to my school and told us what the organization was all about. They explained that there are children in the community who have siblings or parents with illnesses who need an extra helping hand, some extra attention and a fun time. Immediately, I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of. A couple of friends and I decided to sign up, and in hindsight it has been one of the best decisions I have made.
When the first week came, I was very excited but nervous. I knew that these children were all experiencing hardships at home, and it was up to me and my peers to make two nights a week the most fun for the children—and most helpful for their families.
I first thought going to i-Shine was only to help out these children but, in reality, it also gave me a sense of gratitude and friendship. It helped me focus on what is important in life, and I soon learned that giving back is high on that list.
This year, I am a mentor to two sisters. As soon as the activity of the night is announced, you see huge smiles on their faces. Anything is worth it just to see those smiles. I remember one night where the activity was creating a picture out of fruit. One of my girls said to me. “Thanks for doing this with me. You made my day.”
Every time you come home from i-Shine, you have a feeling of accomplishment. You know that you genuinely helped someone out.
Even during a busy week at school, you know your i-Shine kids need you to be at your best. During those evenings you transform into the greatest version of yourself. Some nights it’s becoming an artist to paint new mugs with them; other nights it’s shifting into academic gear to help them with homework, or just being a friend to play their favorite card game with.
i-Shine helps you engage these kids in the best way. For example we had “Simon Says,” and my kid at first didn’t want to be involved in the game and wouldn’t stand up. I really wanted her to get involved because I knew she would have so much fun. “Simon Says” called up all the counselors, and one by one we all kept getting out. My kid was cheering for me and warned me not to get out, however, when I did, the next round my kid was the first one standing there, ready to play.
At i-Shine there are always prizes, gifts, delicious dinners and smiles all around. This year was an especially hard year for a lot of families, and it is amazing to see girls and boys my age step up to the plate and help out. When my girls were in quarantine, i-Shine didn’t let a week go by without some volunteers dropping off activities and dinner.
The i-Shine program is all about giving the child the individual attention they need. For instance, on one of my girl’s birthdays, i-Shine made sure to present her with three cakes, a birthday present and a crown. All of this just to make her feel special.
After almost a year volunteering with i-Shine, I realized how much doing chesed impacted my life. It isn’t just an extracurricular activity where I go to add to my college application, it is a life-changing experience! Even doing homework with these kids reminds me how much they can use our help. I have gained friendships, connections and life lessons. I can say I made a difference in the life of a child. The time we are helping the children is time we are helping families in need across the community.
We’re not just giving to the kids. The kids give back to us tenfold. They empower us to do better. They teach us what it means to be a role model and a leader. Whether it is being there for them as a friend, teammate, tutor, chef, dance partner and everything in between, you are their go-to person. All the lessons I have learned and special moments I’ve had are what make i-Shine so special. I am truly grateful that an organization like Chai Lifeline and programs like i-Shine exist, because they support those in need and inspire us all to be there for one another.
Molly Norman, 17, lives in Teaneck. She is a volunteer for Chai Lifeline’s i-Shine after-school program and a senior at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls. Visit www.chailifeline.org/ishine to volunteer or learn more.