Urban Mitzvah Corps

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URBAN MITZVAH CORPS

Want to make meaningful change this summer? With Urban Mitzvah Corps (UMC), you’ll spend your summer doing just that, right from New Brunswick, NJ. You’ll get hands-on social justice experience – from advocating and organizing, to volunteering at local organizations that are making change in the community, as well deepening your own personal growth in the areas of empathy, communication skills, global awareness and strategic thinking.  UMC provides participants with an authentic opportunity to explore their Jewish identities through the lens of social justice and engagement with new communities.

Participants get to live on campus at Rutgers University in New Brunswick while taking advantage of our longstanding relationships with local organizations to make meaningful change in the greater New Brunswick area. Evenings are devoted to strengthening the community and deepening the program’s connection to Jewish values through social and educational learning.

For more than 50 years, Urban Mitzvah Corps has connected Jewish teens with opportunities to serve alongside incredible organizations and community leaders making a real difference in the lives of individuals throughout the greater New Brunswick area.

2022 Program Details- Cancelled 

Dates: Summer 2022: Sunday, July 3rd – Sunday, July 24th
Length: 21 days
Issue Focus: Community Empowerment/ Action, Advocacy & Organizing 
Community Service Hours: 100 hours
Cost: $5,700.00

Urban Mitzvah Corps is open to all rising 10th – graduating 12th graders

Learn more about umc

Jewish Living 

Diverse Jewish Experiences

  • We ensure a welcoming environment for children from a variety of Jewish backgrounds; although many of our participants have experience within the Reform Jewish movement, we also welcome teens whose families affiliate with other denominations, including Conservative, Reconstructionist, Modern Orthodox, as well as families that are unaffiliated, interfaith, or new to Judaism.

  • Among each group, participants have had a range of previous Jewish experiences; some being well versed in immersive Jewish experiences, and some never having participated in Jewish programming before. Our staff are prepared and enthused about building communities of teens with diverse experiences, and we find the variety in perspectives to be a significant strength of the Mitzvah Corps program.

Shabbat

  • As one of our primary goals is to create environments that allow participants to apply Jewish values to any and all of their surroundings, each Mitzvah Corps program celebrates Shabbat in a way that is unique to the community they are immersed in.

  • Each Friday evening will include extra time in the afternoon to rest and prepare for Shabbat, as well as a special meal and a Shabbat evening worship or spiritual experience. Saturday mornings typically allow for a late wake up, and an alternative, meaningful way to engage in the week’s Torah portion. When possible and appropriate, groups may observe Shabbat as part of a congregation affiliated with any Jewish movement, an alternative unaffiliated Jewish community, or amongst themselves.

About Urban Mitzvah Corps

Our Mission

Urban Mitzvah Corps connects Jewish teenagers with opportunities to understand the complexities of the world, and how Judaism empowers them to play an active role in the pursuit of justice.

Our Philosophy

Teens are yearning for opportunities to make a lasting impact on the world around them, to push the boundaries of what is and explore what could be. Faced with an overwhelmingly complex global community, emerging adults are driven to find creative solutions to the problems that exist, and to take real steps toward positive change.

What it takes to make a real difference is evolving; fundraising, campaigning, and rallying are powerful tools, but in an ever-increasing online environment, over saturated with causes worth fighting for, we believe that teens are inspired by the idea of coming face-to-face with other cultures, ideologies, innovations, and humans from around the world.

Mitzvah Corps focuses on engaging teens in social justice through relationship building, providing opportunities for meaningful interaction, and elevating an understanding of the complex dynamics of a given challenge, and the ways to create unique solutions. We address the systemic causes of the issues we focus on, and the narratives each of our participants are weaving as they journey from the comforts of home to the adventure of something completely new.

Our participants come away with an understanding of how and why a particular issue manifested itself the way it did in a particular community, what current solutions exist and the ripple effects they are having, and the role they can play in the advancement of the cause. They return home able to articulate the powerful experience they’ve had, asking similar questions and seeking answers in their own communities.

Judaism provides a unique lens with which to engage in this type of personal growth, offering a strong foundation to apply both traditional value, and nuanced teachings, in a relevant way to the world around us. Mitzvah Corps is rooted in the idea that Jewish life should be lived actively, both within and outside of existing Jewish institutions, and our teens are able to understand its importance in empowering them to be global citizens.

Itinerary

Urban Mitzvah Corps (UMC) operates on a regular schedule, with participants spending each weekday at their worksites, with afternoons to relax create community programs, and evenings to engage in learning, learn about other non-profit organizations, or explore activities around New Brunswick. Over the course of the program, a routine becomes well established, and participants are given the independence to create their own schedules within the framework of the program at large. Below is a sample of a typical day at UMC.

7:30am – Wake up! Eat Breakfast and pack a lunch.

8:30am – Depart for volunteer site: Either walking or being driven by a staff member

9:00am – Spend the majority of the day immersed in volunteering. Build meaningful relationships with the community, and engage with them for an extended period of time. Lunch is eaten on site.

3:30pm – Return to the house.

4:00pm – Free time. Relax around the house, do laundry, plan some programs, or enjoy the New Brunswick community and head into town for a snack.

6:00pm – Dinner as a group.

7:30pm – Evening activities. A Jewish prayer experience, meeting with a local leader or member of the clergy, interactive group program, field trip, social activity, or combination! This is the time to delve into the issues that are addressed during the day at the worksites, and develop a new skill set and perspective. Its also time to build strong friendships with fellow UMC participants!

10:00pm – Evening ritual. Time to conclude the day, and prepare for tomorrow.

11:30pm – Lights out!

Expectations

UMC is designed to bring teens out of their comfort zones, to enable them to experiment with increased levels of independence, and to immerse them in new environments. We strive to create communities that are welcoming and celebratory of a diverse group of individuals, approach new situations with sensitivity and respect, and maintain a high standard of health, safety, and security.

While immersion into new environments, often without the comforts of home, requires experimentation with increased levels of independence in certain areas, traveling with a group also necessitates that each participant be open to following guidelines and expectations that may feel more restrictive than they are accustomed to.

Our team values transparency, and in order to ensure a successful summer, this unique setting requires that all participants adhere to certain expectations, which are outlined below.

Expectations of Independence

There are some basic expectations of independent living that help ensure the programs are safe for all involved.

We expect that all Urban Mitzvah Corps participants:

  • Will be willing to participate in all program activities (volunteering, educational sessions, etc.).
  • Are able to understand and follow multi-step directions.
  • Are able to communicate their needs.
  • Will not require one-on-one supervision or shadowing.
  • Will not wander from the group.
  • Will not threaten harm to themselves or engage in self-injury.
  • Will not threaten harm, or be violent or physically aggressive, toward others.
  • Will maintain a healthy diet while on their program to ensure that they stay nourished and hydrated.
  • Are able to manage their own self-hygiene.
  • Will be able to manage any challenges they may have with the tools and skills that have been successful in their home setting, and with those that are available to them over the summer.
  • Will approach new situations and communities with respect, an open mind, and sensitivity toward local culture.
Community Policies

Participants are required to adhere to the policies outlined below, and to refrain from engaging in any behavior that jeopardizes the welfare of the community. These Community Policies are expanded upon in a document that will be signed by all participants and parent(s)/guardian(s) upon registration.

We expect that all Urban Mitzvah Corps participants:

  • Act with respect for the well-being and rights of others.
  • Respect both community property and the property of others.
  • Maintain a safe environment void of weapons or illegal substances.
  • Be aware of the impact that their relationships with their peers may have on other members of the community.
  • Adhere to staff instructions regarding their whereabouts.
  • Refrain from operating any motor vehicle.
  • Refrain from any use of alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs.
  • Be positive and cooperative in all of their dealings with the program staff.
  • Behave in a safe way towards their own body.
  • Maintain reasonably clean living space and respect communal space.
  • Adhere to the electronics policies agreed upon at the start of each program.
  • Adhere to any state and federal regulations.
  • Adhere to any additional guidelines set forth by the program staff.

Frequently Asked Questions

 

– General FAQs –

How will teens get to and from New Jersey?

Participants who do not live within driving distance of New Brunswick, New Jersey should plan to either fly or take the train to Newark International Airport (EWR), where they will be greeted by Urban Mitzvah Corps staff and accompanied back to the program. Detailed instructions on booking travel will be provided upon registration. Travel to and from New Jersey is not included in the program tuition.

What if a participant needs to travel as an unaccompanied minor?

Domestic carriers have varying regulations regarding unaccompanied minors (read specific policies and fees of major domestic carriers SouthwestUnitedDeltaAmerican, and JetBlue). Please refer to the protocol of the chosen airline, and notify Urban Mitzvah Corps in advance of the program so that we can provide the contact information for the staff member who will greet the teen upon their arrival, and coordinate a smooth travel experience.

Are vaccinations required for participation on Urban Mitzvah Corps?

The Union for Reform Judaism requires that all camp and travel program participants, staff and faculty must be immunized. Medical exemptions are granted in rare cases; please contact us regarding any potential exemptions prior to registration. For more information, please refer to the URJ Policy Statement on Vaccine Status.

What are the physical requirements for participation on this program?

Urban Mitzvah Corps (UMC) requires light physical activity (walking/jogging with kids, spending long periods of time standing, etc.). Participants are expected to be independent and not require one-on-one supervision, this program does not have any specific physical requirements. Currently, UMC housing is not ADA compliant.

Will participants receive documentation of community service?

Yes! Upon completion, participants will receive documentation for 98 hours of community service. Please note that this number is inclusive of all social justice community engagement; participants who are looking to document specific, traditional direct service hours should contact us in advance with any questions.

What are the housing accommodations like in New Jersey?

Participants and staff reside in the Phi Sigma Sigma sorority house next to Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus during the program. This three-story house is air-conditioned and includes an industrial kitchen, smaller kitchenette, large dining room, and common room space, as well as numerous bedrooms that sleep 2-4 participants, and bathrooms on each floor. Bed linens and pillows are not provided, and there are laundry facilities available for use free of charge.

What kind of clothing should participants pack for Mitzvah Corps?

Urban Mitzvah Corps New Jersey participants should pack clothes that are informal, comfortable, and allow them the ability to be physically active; this includes close-toed shoes, which are required at all of the worksites. They will spend time both in air-conditioned indoor locations, as well as in the outdoor heat and humidity. Many of the volunteering locations involve moving around, playing games, cooking, and more! Additionally, each participant should also bring at least one “nice/professional” outfit for Shabbat at a local congregation, or meetings with legislative professionals.

How will laundry get done?

The house has several washing machines and dryers that are available to the participants free of charge, and laundry detergent is provided.

Do teens need spending money?

The tuition covers all meals, trips, and special programs. Some families may wish to send extra money with their teen to cover other food or snacks eaten at non-meal times, gifts purchased while on trips, and other discretionary items. Anywhere from $30 to $40 per week should be sufficient. The participants will be responsible for their own money. There are ATM machines on campus.

Are visitors permitted at Urban Mitzvah Corps New Jersey?

Visitors are only permitted at specific, pre-determined times, and the information is available prior to each summer. In order to take a teen off site during these pre-determined times, any non-parent or guardian visitors must be 21 years or older, and a parent must have pre-designated that person as being allowed to do so. If a participant’s family wishes to take their teen offsite at any other time, they must get approval in advance from an Urban Mitzvah Corps New Jersey Program Leader, in consultation with the Mitzvah Corps Directors.

How does Mitzvah Corps handle teens who become ill or injured?

The participants’ health and safety is our primary concern during the summer. In all instances where the health of a teen is in question, parents/guardians will be contacted.

The Urban Mitzvah Corps staff are First Aid/AED and CPR certified, and will carry a variety of supplies and over-the-counter medications at all times; parents/guardians have the option to give permission for the staff to administer these medications while completing the health history forms.

If a teen needs medical attention beyond what can be provided by the staff, or there in event of an emergency, the group always has access to quality professional care.

How do meals work?

We keep a fully stocked kitchen with plenty of options for meals and snacks. There are cold breakfast options available to the participants each morning, and each teen is responsible for preparing and packing themselves a bagged lunch to eat on their job site during the day. Dinners are eaten as hot meals together as a community, and prepared by the professional kitchen staff at the house.

 Summer Staff

Urban Mitzvah Corps programs are led by three or four staff members, with a Program Director supervising the team.

All UMC program leaders are considered members of the program’s leadership team. The team will be given all necessary information regarding the program’s operational foundation, and will be given a high degree of independence and responsibility to create and implement additional educational, social, and community building programming. All program leaders must have demonstrated strong personal leadership skills, the ability to take initiative, the capacity to handle multiple ongoing tasks in an ever-changing environment, and excellence at working on a team.

To apply to staff a Urban Mitzvah Corps experience for Summer 2022, please complete our staff application. For more information, email Amy Kagan, akagan@urj.org