AVODAH recruits (from the top) Bratt, Kustanowitz and Murray.
Goucher graduates Jill Bratt, Kashmir Kustanowitz and Sarah Murray will spend their first year after college fighting poverty through AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, a one-of-a-kind program of year-long service that gives recent college graduates from a wide range of Jewish backgrounds the opportunity to work full-time on urban poverty issues.
“I knew I wanted to do something social justice oriented,” said Murray, who is from Reisterstown, Md. “I wanted to take a break before grad school to do something meaningful, and I wanted to be connected to a community.” This coming year, she will serve as an educational advocate at Juvenile Regional Services in New Orleans, working with youth coming out of the juvenile justice system. “I’ll work with them to ensure they have the resources to follow their parole. I’ll check up on them in school. I’ll talk to their family and provide the resources they need.”
Murray first learned about AVODAH from Goucher Hillel Engagement Director Yona Gorelick. Goucher Hillel sponsored numerous opportunities for students to learn about AVODAH. “AVODAH changes lives. The lives of the people served by our Corps members’ volunteer efforts, and the lives of the Corps members themselves,” said Paul Entis, site director for AVODAH’s Washington, DC, program during a panel called “Working for a Cause You Believe In” sponsored by Hillel and the Career Development Office. “In fact, the lives of more than 200,000 people in poverty have been changed, and more than $6 million has been saved through the efforts of over 300 Corps members who have participated in AVODAH since its founding in 1998.”
Bratt, from Overland Park, Kans., explains that Hillel and AVODAH both strive to “be as pluralistic as possible, appealing to a plethora of types of Jews.”
Each year, AVODAH recruits people in their 20s from across North America and from the full spectrum of Jewish life to spend a year working on urban poverty issues as full-time employees in local non-profit organizations in Chicago, New Orleans, New York, and Washington, DC. During their year of service, participants live together, and under the guidance of AVODAH staff, they study, eat and share their daily experiences.
“I’m really excited for the community aspect,” Murray explains. “Many of my friends from college have moved off to other cities and are experiencing a real sense of loneliness. I think with AVODAH, a lot of that transition will be smoother because there are nine other people who are similar minded sharing similar experiences as me all living together.”
Bratt is also enthused about living with her peers. “I was drawn to AVODAH because of the emphasis on community,” she says. “I’m excited to build a community of conscious, considerate, social actors. We're not just going to work every day, but we have each other to go back to and share and question together. To me, one of the most crucial aspects of social justice is that you're asking questions. That was something that was different about AVODAH than other programs…. Also for me, Judaism is largely about tikkun olam, so this is a great way for me to question, define, and explore what my life is about as a Jewish woman.”
All three Goucher alumni were active in service and volunteerism prior to joining AVODAH. Kustanowitz, from Minneapolis, Minn., is currently working at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin as a counselor for youth with special needs. She will spend the next year in the nation’s capital with ThriveDC, an organization that works to prevent and end homelessness. Murray has experience working in Baltimore hospitals and with developmentally disabled youth. Bratt worked on a community organizing campaign with Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development (BUILD). Come the fall, she will work as an office and volunteer program coordinator at Chicago Women’s Health Center, a health collective that provides gynecological and mental health care, health outreach and education, and advocacy for women’s health rights. These Corps members will save their partner organizations about $18,500 dollars each in staffing costs, since Corps members live on a basic stipend during their year of service.
After their year of service, Corps members’ connection to social justice causes and Jewish leadership continues to grow through Pursue: Action for a Just World, an AVODAH-affiliated network that provides a framework for ongoing activism in a Jewish context through its robust alumni initiative. Pursue works to develop a cadre of leaders who will commit themselves to working as advocates and organizers around social justice issues. In the twelve years since AVODAH was founded, the organization estimates that 92 percent of its alumni are making a lasting impact on communities around the country and worldwide, engaging in social justice issues or Jewish communal work.
AVODAH will begin accepting applications for the 2011-2012 year in November of 2011. To learn more about AVODAH, please visit www.avodah.net, become a fan of AVODAH on Facebook, or follow us on twitter @avodah_tjsc