May 20, 2024
Close this search box.
Close this search box.
May 20, 2024
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

OU’s Project Community 2020 Delivers a Unique Teen Summer

After most travel, camp and other in-person summer programming were canceled due to COVID-19, Jewish community members struggled to find meaningful summer activities. In response, the Orthodox Union’s (OU) NCSY, Yachad and OU-JLIC collaborated to create Project Community 2020 (PC20), which provides teens, college students and Yachad members with a unique summer experience that combines community service, learning, sports and entertainment.

Launched across the U.S. and Canada on July 6, Project Community has brought together more than 200 community members in New Jersey, including Highland Park, Edison, MetroWest and the Bergen County areas.

OU’s NCSY adapted its programming to create an impactful summer for community members. Beginning July 8, NCSY gathered more than 105 teens from eighth to 12th grade to participate in boy’s PC20 kollel and girl’s GO in-person summer programs. Both were filled with recreational, educational and volunteer activities. Both programs follow CDC guidelines in order to prioritize the safety of campers and staff members.

PC20 Kollel is based off NCSY’s six-week Israel summer program, NCSY Kollel, which is highly popular among North Jersey high school boys. Most summers, participants tour Israel, deepen their Jewish learning and engage in volunteering opportunities. This year, PC20 Kollel draws from many of the same elements, where participants join in daily tefillah, learn Jewish texts, compete in sports activities, volunteer for their local communities and hear from guest speakers.

Located on the Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC) grounds, PC20 Kollel teens are divided into pods and spend time with the same 10 peers for all activities. Each pod or group focuses on different activities, where the teens can indicate activity preferences in advance.

PC20’s teen program for girls, GO, also combines elements of NCSY’s summer programs for girls that were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Similar to Project Kollel, GO emphasizes volunteer opportunities that give back to the teens’ local communities.

New Jersey NCSY’s Regional Director Rabbi Aryeh Wielgus described one of GO’s meaningful volunteer efforts, when the teens helped to staff a Yad Leah clothing drive. Yad Leah is a volunteer-based organization that provides clothing to low-income families in Israel.

“It brought the whole Project Community together. The girls really stepped up, helping direct traffic and running the drive,” Rabbi Wielgus said. He noted that despite COVID-19, teens are able to safely come together as a community and give to others in a meaningful way as a result of Project Community’s efforts.

The GO teens also enjoy tefillah workshops, virtual shuk visits to Israel, carnivals, Jewish learning opportunities and fun evening activities, such as pool parties and barbecues.

OU’s Yachad, which provides support to individuals with developmental disabilities or other learning challenges, also took part in Project Community by creating summer opportunities for its members. Based in Bergen County, the Yachad summer program began July 13. Yachad members participate in three two-week sessions, which end on Aug. 21. The program is from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Fridays. It offers evening activities twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with an extended day until 4:30 p.m. Other programs take place in Highland Park, New Jersey, in collaboration with NCSY. Overall, the program has gathered 80 community members, including Yachad participants, volunteers and staff, to create a meaningful and fun summer experience.

Similar to Project Community’s other summer programming, the Yachad program prioritizes health and safety by following CDC guidelines. Upon arrival, temperature checks are taken along with a self-assessment. After completing these measures, Yachad participants are divided into pods, where each group is made up of 12 participants that include Yachad members and staff to ensure social distancing guidelines are met. Additionally, all staff must wear masks both inside and outside. Participants are asked to wear masks as well.

Yachad’s program actively engages members by incorporating learning, service and recreational activities, with each week focusing on a different Jewish theme. The first week, for example, was Israel themed, and Yachad members learned about and strengthened their connections to the land by making maps of Israel, creating “Eilat in a bottle” jars and writing letters to soldiers. Each day also features a Jewish educational component, spanning from weekly parsha learning to holiday-centered activities, such as menorah making and sukkah building.

Raquel Selevan, the director of New Jersey Yachad, reflected on the summer program’s success and significance to the community.

“To think about everyone who was missing a summer was devastating,” she said. In response, a group of OU leaders collaborated, asking themselves how they could “normalize the summer” for community members. Selevan explained how they incorporated meaningful elements and activities from past programs to create this year’s summer schedule. Parents and caregivers have been so happy that the organization has been able to provide this program. “Most importantly, our participants are having an amazing summer, made possible by Project Community.”

By Olivia Butler

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles