Brightening Children's Winter Break
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Jewish Federation volunteers brighten Cleveland children's winter break
Article Reprinted with permission from Cleveland.com
By Jeff Piorkowski
Volunteers from the Jewish Federation of Cleveland once again worked this holiday season to make sure that children whose lives can be a daily struggle know that there are those who care about them.
For the seventh year, the Federation, headquartered in Beachwood, sent volunteers to locations in Greater Cleveland where children can use a smile, and some food as part of its Winter Break Lunch Program. One of the annual program stops is the Garden Valley Neighborhood House, 7100 Kinsman Road.
The GVNH's Volunteer Director Jan Ridgeway said the Federation's volunteers have come to the community center for the fourth straight year. Throughout the year, the GVNH offers breakfast and lunch to those in the low-income surrounding area, as well as job training for adults.
In addition, Ridgeway said, "We teach children etiquette, so they know how to set a table, and hygiene. All the kids learn how to sew a button. We teach them African drumming, and there's a session on creative movement, and we tutor them. We teach them life skills."
The Jewish Federation comes into the picture during the holiday/winter break from school. Cleveland Public School children were off this holiday season through Friday, Jan. 6.
"When the kids are off school, the Jewish Federation comes in and makes sure they have hot lunches," Ridgeway said. "Otherwise, a lot of them might not be able to eat lunch."
Although the Federation's volunteers usually run a program for both weeks of holiday break, this year, because of the days the holidays fell on, the Winter Break Lunch Program was in operation only from Jan. 3-6. On each of those days, the program made lunches available for up to 25 children from the ages of 6-16.
"This area has a very high crime rate," Ridgeway said. "When the Jewish Federation comes in, it allows people who don't live here to see that these kids aren't really bad. We're all people.
Teen Carleesa Robinson, who has attended all of the Federation's Winter Break Lunch Programs at the GVNH, said of the volunteers, "We get to meet new people. It's nice to see people who really care about our community."
Susan Hyman is Director of the Jewish Volunteer Network and gathers the more than 100 volunteers annually who take part in the program.
Orange's Marci Moses and Solon's Liz Rumizen are the program's co-chairs.
"We love it," Rumizen said of the program. "To see the happiness and joy in the children. They love the attention they get. Seeing them laugh and be entertained. It's making them feel special."
"People like to feel like they're making an impact," Moses said of the volunteers who help at the four locations, which this year also included Start Right Church, 977 Caledonia Road in Cleveland Heights; Grace Church, 2503 Broadview Road in Cleveland; and the Boys & Girls Club at 6114 Broadway Ave. in Cleveland.
Moses and Rumizen are both mothers of three, and their children also spent time at the GVNH volunteering their time.
During each day of the week the Federation provides, in addition to a hot lunch, entertainment. Entertainment this year included volunteer performances by Jungle Terry, Storyteller Jim and Flower the Clown.
Also provided are a holiday gift each day, and a snack. On the final day, the Federation gave to each student a book from the Cleveland Kids Book Bank.
"I don't want them to get toys, I want them to get books," Ridgeway said. "This area has a very low literacy rate and most of these kids don't have a book at home."
Moses added, "We're giving each one a bag of food they can take home so that they have food for next week, too." The bagged food was obtained from the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.
As the children left Friday, smiles on their faces after enjoying Flower the Clown's antics, Moses and Rumizen made plans with Ridgeway to once again hold a two-week session next year.
Of the Federation's efforts, Ridgeway said, "I love it. We couldn't do it without them."
And, according to the program's co-chairs, the volunteers also leave the experience with love in their hearts.