I’m not sure about you but this Chanukah thing is starting to drag a little bit. Sure, today it was nice to add the blessing for a Rosh Hodesh (new month, happy Tevet!) I just doing think I have too much of the Chanukah spirit. I am not even sure if this is my post for day 7 or for day 8. I just counted though and it seems that there will be 8 posts after this one so I’m calling my Chanukah posting complete!
Nevertheless, today’s organization is certainly worthy of our attention and donations, especially because it is extremely important to my life. AVODAH: THE JEWISH SERVICE CORPS is a program for self-identifying Jewish university graduates. My life was transformed in many ways by this program, I can’t even begin to list them. Instead, here are the results that AVODAH reports on their website.
Since our founding in 1998, AVODAH Corps members have helped bring opportunity and justice to more than 200,000 people in need and have saved organizations for which they worked over $6 million.
In addition, the vast majority of our alumni have chosen to continue working in career paths related to social activism and/or Jewish life.
Our Theory Of Change
AVODAH believes that people can find the support and inspiration needed to sustain long-term commitments to social activism through engagement with Jewish traditions – the traditions of a community that has long placed efforts to improve the world at the center of its spiritual practice. Moreover, we believe that the most powerful way to structure this engagement is through an intensive, immersive, yearlong program that requires a high level of commitment from participants.
During the program year, AVODAH’s framework of full-time work on social issues combined with intentional living, education, and skills-training creates change in two ways.
First, the network of anti-poverty nonprofit organizations that serve as AVODAH’s worksites receive concrete benefits, including high-quality staff, on-going training and development for those staff, and significant budget savings. In addition, these worksites benefit from the fact that they are networked with one another by a group of Corps members who find ways to make connections between the agencies’ needs and resources.
The second way in which AVODAH’s method produces change during the program year is its focus on group-building skills. The fact that AVODAH Corps members live together is not an incidental part of the program. It is, in many ways, the heart and soul of AVODAH’s approach to identity formation. By bringing together a group of passionate and idealistic people and challenging them to build a vibrant community of young Jewish activists, we are modeling during the AVODAH year precisely the project that we hope AVODAH alumni will undertake throughout their lives – the building of strong, pluralistic, and effective Jewish frameworks for social change.
For this reason, we focus extensively on group building, group management, group decision-making, negotiation, and conflict resolution skills. AVODAH Corps members are taught how to help a group identify its aims, its strategy for pursing those aims, the tactics that will achieve the aims, and ways to successfully navigate conflict when it arises. These skills are immediately applied in the context of AVODAH’s group living, but they also contribute to the effectiveness of our Corps members at their worksites and in their other activism.
AVODAH believes that social change happens because groups make it happen, and that the Jewish community is best described as a large collection of voluntary groups. For this reason, AVODAH aims to make our alumni the kind of individuals who strengthen and energize group aims. Seeding such people throughout civil society and the Jewish community is a core part of our theory of change.
The impact on anti-poverty nonprofits and the communities they serve is significant – thousands of people are helped to maintain decent and dignified lives each year through the efforts of AVODAH Corps members, and dozens of organizations addressing the causes and effects of poverty are strengthened through their work. But it is ultimately the program’s ability to help participants sustain long-term commitments to involvement in work on social issues – as either professionals or volunteers – by which AVODAH’s theory of change will prove to be valid.
The high impact of our method (year-long, full-time, and residential) has been proven repeatedly by evaluations of other resource-intensive, full-immersion programs, such as Jewish day schools and summer camps. These programs have been shown to be the most successful vehicles for education and identity transformation, and we believe that investment in AVODAH produces similar high-impact results. Funders of programs like AmeriCorps, City Year, Public Allies, and other full-time, year-long service programs – every one of which has grown dramatically in scope over the past 5-10 years – all subscribe to the notion that high-intensity, high-impact programs like AVODAH offer an effective means of changing the lives of program participants and the people they serve.
Surveys of our alumni and the ongoing vitality of the AVODAH Alumni Community appear to confirm that our alumni are themselves changed by AVODAH and that they are going on to change the communities in which they live, work, vote, and volunteer.
I know, right? In honor of the 8th night of Chanukah, let’s keep the flame burning for meaningful social change in young people in our generation and for those still to come.