In honor of Family Volunteer Day, Nov. 23, Points of Light and Disney are recognizing families with the Daily Point of Light Award. Meet today's winning family, the Silversteins of New York, and nomimate someone in your community.
Natalie and Jonathan Silverstein have built a family tradition out of Jewish tradition.
It started four years ago when Natalie and older daughter Emilia – 8 at the time – began volunteering at the homeless shelter run by their synagogue, Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City. The eight-bed shelter provides temporary housing to men who have been referred by city agencies. Many have jobs or go to school, but simply lack a place to live.
“Once per school semester, we work an all-night shift with another volunteer family,” says Natalie. “We always work with two teams of one adult and one child. Sometimes the kids will bake cookies for the men, or sit in the lounge and watch television with them. But mainly we’re all there to be available in case the men need anything. It’s a great opportunity to teach the kids about service.”
Performing mitzvahs, or good and charitable acts, is a central part of Judaism, and it’s what drives the Silverstein family to serve others together.
Since the Silversteins began volunteering at the men’s shelter, their son Archie, now 10, has grown old enough to participate. Now Natalie spends two nights a school semester at the shelter, one with Emilia and one with Archie.
Emilia, now 12, says she both enjoys and appreciates the importance of her volunteer time.
“We need to help, but it’s also nice seeing other people benefit from our charity work,” says Emilia. “If you were in a bad position, you’d want someone else to help get you out of that dark place. I think community service is now a part of my life.”
Spring 2013 marked the 30th year of the men’s shelter, and during the school year leading up to the anniversary, Natalie volunteered many hours speaking about the shelter’s importance to parents of kids attending Rodeph Sholom School, where the Silverstein children are students. Because of Natalie’s efforts, 15 new families volunteered to work at the shelter.
In order to help people find even more family-friendly volunteer opportunities, Natalie became active this year in Doing Good Together, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit devoted to inspiring families to get involved in community service. In September, Natalie became the New York-area coordinator for Doing Good Together, and has already signed up 200 subscribers for her monthly e-mail newsletter, which alerts local families to volunteer opportunities such as planting trees in parks, sending birthday cards to the elderly and donating candy to U.S. troops.
“It’s another thing I do because it’s so hard to find service work for young kids,” says Natalie. “Children are born with loving hearts, but parents need to model moral values for their children, and work to get them interested in making large and small differences in the world.”
While the Silversteins’ youngest child, 5-year-old daughter Alaina, is still too young to help at the men’s shelter, she’s already learning the value of mitzvahs, Natalie says. Alaina participates each year when the family of five visits a homebound elderly couple – Holocaust survivors – to light their Hannukah candles for them.