As a community activist and volunteer around Bergen County, Ariella Steinreich often found herself fielding calls from acquaintances and friends seeking ideas for chesed projects. “Chesed,” loosely translated, refers to acts of kindness.
“People would say, ‘I have a kid being bat mitzvahed and you have your pulse on volunteer opportunities. What can she do?'”
As the former community service coordinator of Ma’ayanot High School in Teaneck and a board member of several organizations, including the Jewish Association for the Developmentally Disabled, 22-year-old Steinreich is acutely familiar with the ins and outs of community volunteer work. Last year, she founded the “Pay it Forward” program, which pairs high-schoolers with younger students so they can serve as mentors and help with schoolwork.
The idealist in her, however, wanted to connect more people to volunteer work and, she said, “to bring chesed to the forefront.”
To that end, she created a one-stop resource for area chesed projects and opportunities. The website, called “allchesed.com,” is a clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities geared towards adults and children who want to help others and give back. Allchesed.com provides information about volunteer opportunities at hospitals, schools, and organizations and lists opportunities to help the developmentally disabled, the poor, cancer victims, the blind, and just about anyone else who can use a helping hand.
“The website is a fun and easy way to find new volunteer opportunities within the community, to help volunteers find the leader within themselves,” she said.
“Some people are nervous about going to a hospital, or a nursing home. This makes it simple to find other options,” she said.
The site also contains a Google calendar with daily community chesed events. Steinreich said she already has items to list through March and is hoping for more.
The website brings the user to various categories and is easy for adults and children to navigate, she said, noting that she created it to be as user-friendly as possible.
The site, which is free of charge and does not contain ads, has generated a lot of positive feedback since it was launched recently. Thus far, more than 250 people have used the site, and many have signed up to receive the weekly e-mail containing information about upcoming chesed opportunities, she said.
Teaneck resident Betty Moheban first visited the site when looking for a way to volunteer and came away impressed. “It addresses a prevalent need in the community by uniting those who wish to volunteer,” Moheban said, adding that she found it easy to use. “It offers a wealth of information regarding various volunteer opportunities…and the monthly volunteer calendar is a convenient tool that enables volunteers to clearly view the opportunities that fit into their individual schedules.”
Steinreich said she hopes more organizations will hear about the site and contact her to have their information displayed so that more groups can be included. The site already includes links to various organizations and provides contact information enabling people to become involved with just a mouse click or phone call. The website features opportunities that allow volunteers to step forward at the spur of the moment – such as blood drives, walkathons, or hospital visits – or to become involved in long-term projects that are appropriate for b’nai mitzvah candidates, she said.
The listed organizations come from Jewish and non-Jewish backgrounds, including some that are well established and others that are newer.
“This is a one-stop shop with no political allegiances. It’s a launching pad for chesed that bridges the gap. There’s Orthodox, non-affiliated, and non-Jewish groups,” said Steinreich.
“Chesed is one of these things that affects everybody. It’s not as if only a certain group of people need the chesed or need to do the chesed,” she said. Recalling that her parents’ generation “was all about rallying for things such as Soviet Jewry,” she noted that her peers are the volunteer generation and should be exposed to different ways they can contribute to the world.
“Chesed is something that is not based on intellectual ability; everyone can make an impact on their community using their talents. It enables everyone to become a leader,” she said. No matter what your skills, you can find an organization or opportunity where you can have an impact, she said.
One exciting feature is a page that provides ideas for travelers to Israel who are searching for volunteer opportunities there, she said.
Steinreich, who recently started working at a public relations firm, paid for the site herself and does weekly updates to the pages. “It was my way of giving back and doing chesed for my community,” she said. “I’m targeting my own community and hope this concept extends to other communities. I want this to grow.”
For now, however, she is content to get the conversation about chesed flowing.