Block students find great meaning in volunteering

By  Gabi Mankowitz

My classmates at Block Yeshiva High School and I have been given a great privilege. This school year we embarked on a new program, going as a group on Fridays to a very special residential area called Rainbow Village.

Many of the residents are individuals with special needs who are provided with care and programming by the umbrella organization called St. Louis Arc – a group started in 1950 by parents who had children with special needs. As the parents got older, they worried about who would take care of their children once they became adults. How would the children fare once their parents passed away? So the parents founded Arc to provide care for the children in their adult lives.

To this day Arc assists individuals who have special needs. It provides individuals with the opportunities to make choices about how they want to live their lives. They are given an array of programs: fun activities, educational classes and religious groups.

That’s where the Block girls came in. One of the teachers at our school, Ms. Czmarko, does a great deal of volunteer work at Rainbow Village, and knew there are many Jewish residents in the area. Since there was no Jewish programming for them, our school collaborated with her to start one. The program has been successful because of her great efforts.             


Ms. Czmarko connected us with the staff at The Arc, who taught us about the wonderful care and services they provide, and how we can become partners in the endeavor by volunteering.

We couldn’t wait to begin the activities we planned with Ms. Czmarko, teaching the Jewish residents about Judaism and connecting them to our shared heritage.

We officially launched our program in November. We made challah covers and explained their significance with regard to Shabbos. As we mingled with the residents, friendships began to form.

Aniel Shapiro, a junior at Block Yeshiva High, said that one of the great aspects of the program was how excited both the residents and the Block girls were to see each other again each week. Now, when we come to Rainbow Village, we can’t wait to spend more time with the residents.

We have already enjoyed many activities with them. We decorated plastic wine goblets and had a Shabbos party with them, using the challah covers we had made as well. The party included typical Shabbos foods, such as grape juice, challah and gefilte fish. Block’s Head of School Rabbi Gabriel Munk joined us and explained the significance of each part of the meal.

We later had Hanukkah bingo, using beautiful bingo sheets made by girls in Ms. Czmarko’s Spanish class. The sheets showed different parts of the holiday, with illustrations of Maccabees, menorahs, latkes. The bingo winners received shiny dreidels as their prize. The event was a hit.

The experience at Rainbow Village as a whole has definitely been a positive one. As Rebecca Wilhelm, a senior at Block Yeshiva High School expressed, “It’s really nice to connect to the residents and to help them connect to their Jewish heritage.”

Moreover, we have found that by giving of ourselves to the residents, we in turn receive so much more. Each Friday we look forward to new opportunities to share and bond with the residents. We are so privileged already and the adventure has only just begun.

Gabi Mankowitz is a senior at Louis and Sarah Block Yeshiva High School.