Students Gain Leadership Skills, Volunteer Through L.E.V. Campus Fellowship
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by MCKENNA CORSON | STAFF REPORTER
While COVID-19 was causing plenty of damage felt in the present, it was also leaving a trail of destruction stretching into years forward.
Many college students, whose futures are influenced by summer internships, jobs, classes and study abroad trips, found themselves with empty schedules and question marks for future plans.
Adam Hirsh, executive director of Hillel at Kent State University in Kent, and Jared Isaacson, executive director of Cleveland Hillel in Cleveland, witnessed this plight firsthand and knew something had to be done.
“That’s where Hillel comes into play – being able to offer the idea of something that is inherently building Jewish community in Jewish life,” Isaacson told the Cleveland Jewish News. “Suddenly, we now had a population that really had no particular options available anymore, and so it’s our job in those situations to step in and try to create something with them and for them that will have meaning and help promote their development as young adults.”
The Hillel executive directors joined forces and hatched a plan to start the L.E.V. Campus Fellowship, a four-week paid summer program where Jewish, college-age individuals from Northeast Ohio or affiliated with either Hillel could develop leadership skills, engage with Jewish education and volunteer, creating the acronym “L.E.V.”
With support from the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, the fellowship provided these three pillars through leadership-building and professional development seminars, cohort-based Jewish education and volunteer opportunities from June 29 to July 24. Upon completion, fellows received a $500 stipend, according to Cleveland Hillel’s website.
It would mark the Hillels’ first such project, and first major collaboration in years, Hirsh said.
The fellowship drew 115 students representing 44 college campuses from across the nation – almost triple what Hirsh and Isaacson expected.
“For students to overwhelmingly say ‘I want this right now,’ we knew it was our responsibility to make this happen for as many of them as we could immediately,” Hirsh told the CJN. “That meant expanding our education cohorts, technology and volunteer database to be able to handle this. It’s been very special seeing over 100 college-age students on Zoom at one time, all ready to make a difference in their community.”
Fellows took part in at least three of six virtual seminars led by speakers and community leaders. Using a mix of what the students requested to learn and courses pre-created by the speakers, the seminars tackled topics like networking in today’s world and transitioning from college to a career. Three of the seminars were sponsored by executive search and coaching consultancy Ratliff & Taylor, and Shaker Heights-native comedian, writer, director and actor David Wain appeared for a conversation via Zoom from Los Angeles.
Fellows also participated in four virtual cohort gatherings facilitated by Jewish/Hillel educators. The fellows were broken up into eight, small group cohorts by the areas they wanted to study. Following the lessons from the 11 educators – mainly from Ohio’s Hillels and Hillel International – students were encouraged to learn with and from their peers, Hirsh said.
Finally, fellows completed a minimum of 20 hours volunteering in-person, virtually or both. Fellows selected their volunteer opportunities using a curated database of Cleveland agencies, or by suggesting their own. Volunteer opportunities were completed with the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, Cleveland Kosher Food Pantry, Jewish Family Service Association of Cleveland, JFSA’S KNOW Abuse Peer Leadership Summer Institute, the Federation, Western Reserve Historical Society, Friendship Circle, 7 Cups, Bellefaire JCB, Empowering Youth Exploring Justice, Red Cross and others, Hirsh said. Some fellows also helped their neighbors or distant family with tasks like running errands.
Overall, the fellows completed 2,183 hours of community service with multiple students surpassing 30 hours each.
Following the fellowship’s timely benefits to Northeast Ohio’s Jewish young adults and the area they call home, it makes sense L.E.V. is Hebrew for “heart” – a “happy accident” Hirsh and Isaacson realized after devising the fellowship’s three pillars.
Isaacson hinted at the possibility of similar programs or even a continuation of the L.E.V. Campus Fellowship in the future, after seeing the need for this summer’s program.
“The fellowship was tremendously successful,” Hirsh said in an email to the CJN. “The impact is felt in the community for the selflessness the students showed in their volunteer work, and it is felt by the fellows for the investment the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, Cleveland Hillel and Hillel at Kent State made in them. These students have demonstrated they are leaders in the Cleveland community and are willing to step up if given opportunities.”