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June 22, 2020

On March 23, less than two weeks after the state-wide shutdown due to coronavirus, 20 members of Gesher LeKesher, a high school Jewish peer leadership program facilitated by Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS), joined a Zoom call to come together and process their new reality. The call was initiated by Celeste Albert, Teen Program Coordinator at JFCS.

“It was clear from the early days of shutdown that teens would be deeply impacted by their new reality,” said Celeste Albert. “While our in-person meetings were cancelled and a majority of programming concluded for the school year, I knew that there would be this audience of teens seeking connection and community.”

The Gesher LeKesher Zoom call became a weekly meeting of 20 members of the program. Albert then expanded to Jewish Community Youth Foundation (JCYF), a Jewish youth philanthropy program for teens in grades 8 through 12. Two weekly JCYF calls were set up, one session for 8th and 9th graders and a second for 10th – 12th graders.

Each virtual gathering is a chance for teens to participate in a guided discussion, share about their experiences, and connect with each other. Initial discussions centered on helping the teens adjust to the new routines and responsibilities of remote learning and coping with distancing from peers. As the weeks continued, Albert pivoted the focus to providing engaging opportunities such as virtual service projects and virtual “field trips.”

 

“The teens definitely look to the weekly meetings as a chance to connect over their shared emotions surrounding the pandemic, but they were also looking for activities to fill their time,” said Albert. “Even as discussions shifted, every session ends with resources I have identified to support the mental health and emotional wellbeing of the participants.”

With the virtual school year ended, Albert recognized that teens would need additional opportunities to fill their time and connect with one another. Summer programming will be open to the broader community for all youth and teens. The JFCS Summer Teen Series focuses on service and personal development.

“Our virtual service days have received the highest engagement of any other program and teens are always asking about the next opportunity,” said Albert.

The “Summer Serve” sessions will offer three opportunities for youth and teens grades 6 – 12. The first will include a discussion of values and highlight a number of service projects from which participants can choose based on their giving values and interests. The second session will be focused on education and help support the annual JFCS School Supply Drive. Lastly, the third session will be held in partnership with Challah for Hunger Princeton.

Additionally, there will be three college and career focused discussions for 11th grade and above. Sessions will include a career exploration workshop, a panel discussion with college students to share their experiences and answer questions, and a resume and interviewing workshop where students will receive tips on building a resume and promoting their skills and experience.

Sessions & Dates

Summer Serve: For Grades 6-12 How Will You Serve? Sunday July 12, 1 PM Discover ways to customize your summer service experience.

Summer Serve: For Grades 6-12 School Supplies Drive Sunday July 26, 1 PM Kick off event for annual school supply drive, learn about needs in our community.

Summer Serve: For Grades 6-12 Challah Bake Sunday Aug 9, 1 PM Create your own challah at home for Challah for Hunger.

College & Career: For Grades 11+ Career Exploration Workshop Tuesday July 7, 7 PM If you don’t know what to do with your major, or are unsure what to study, join us!

College & Career: For Grades 11+ Colleges Perspectives Monday July 20, 7 PM A panel of college students discuss their experiences after high school.

College & Career: For Grades 11+ Promoting Yourself & Your Skill Set Monday Aug 3, 7 PM An interactive workshop to build your resume and develop talking points.

Registration Link for All Sessions.