Putting talents to work with Creative Connections

Putting talents to work with Creative Connections

Frisch students  and Chai Lifeline kids with medical problems partner up for activities

From left, Frisch students Maytal Nelson, Atara Pickett, and Emma Kinches take charge of the Creative Connections program for Chai Lifeline.
From left, Frisch students Maytal Nelson, Atara Pickett, and Emma Kinches take charge of the Creative Connections program for Chai Lifeline.

Kids with serious illnesses can’t always get out of the house to do activities they’re interested in pursuing, from art and music to science and baking, beading and chess.

These activities are now possible thanks to a pilot program matching volunteers from the Frisch School, the yeshiva high school in Paramus, with children and teens served by New York-based Chai Lifeline.

This Jewish nonprofit organization has a range of programs designed to meet the social, emotional, and practical needs of children, families, and communities impacted by medical crises and trauma in North America, the U.K., Belgium, and Israel.

Creative Connections makes it possible for these kids — or their siblings — to tap into a variety of virtual lessons taught by talented high-school student volunteers.

It began when Maytal Nelson of Teaneck, a senior at Frisch, began volunteering with local families through Chai Lifeline earlier this year.

“I would see on the volunteers’ chat that someone was looking for someone to teach guitar or piano lessons,” she said.

She would message Rivka Gordon of Fair Lawn, Chai Lifeline’s director of volunteer services, offering to find a Frisch student to fill the request.

Soon, Ms. Gordon suggested expanding this into a more formal program with the aid of Elana Lefkovitz, the director of chesed programming at Frisch. “We were looking for meaningful ways to get high-school kids involved in Chai Lifeline,” Ms. Gordon said. “They are very interested in helping, but there aren’t a lot of opportunities for volumes of people. I knew Frisch was an amazing place to start because it has an eclectic student body and they cultivate a lot of talents in extracurricular clubs.

“Maytal has been a strong volunteer for us, and I saw during covid how Zoom sessions could work well. The second I mentioned the idea to her, she ran with it. She even made up the name Creative Connections.”

“We created flyers to put around school and had students apply to be part of the program,” Ms. Nelson said. “Once the ball got rolling, the program grew like crazy! There are now 30 active pairs of Frisch kids and Chai Lifeline kids.”

Ms. Gordon says Creative Connections is “really taking off and doing well. We are offering it in places that have a Chai Lifeline presence and don’t have a big time difference with New Jersey, such as Houston and Florida.”

The volunteers are coaching Chai Lifeline kids in areas such as coding, video games, robotics, singing, drama, and even building with Legos.

Most of the sessions take place online, but some are in person. Frisch senior Judah Vogel of Teaneck, for example, travels to Williamsburg to teach guitar to a homebound child who does not have access to the internet.

Another Frisch senior, Max Levy of Englewood, took a Chai Lifeline child skiing several times. They went to the Big Snow American Dream indoor skiing and snowboarding park in the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford.

Ms. Nelson and Ms. Lefkovitz, along with students Atara Pickett of Fair Lawn and Emma Kinches of Teaneck, make the matches and then check up on each pair weekly to ensure all is running smoothly. If necessary, they’ll find a different match.

One mother in Monsey said she first approached Ms. Gordon and Ms. Lefkovitz about finding a guitar tutor for her teenage son, who was home from school for several months due to his illness. In the end, a local guitar teacher was found for that son, but  the mother realized that his 11-year-old brother could benefit from the Creative Connections program.

“We hooked him up with a boy from Frisch, Nati Wrubel, who was able to teach my son guitar over the computer,” the mother said. “What makes it easy for me, aside from the fact that Nati is so on top of it, is that I don’t have to take my son anywhere. and he can still feel special and learn a skill and have something in his schedule that his parents don’t have time to coordinate for him.

“It is a nice, relaxing half-hour slot every Thursday night with an older buddy looking out for him, caring for him, and teaching him something cool. It has been really special, and we hope it continues.”

“Getting texts from both the Chai Lifeline families and the volunteers saying how much they enjoy and feel so lucky to be a part of Creative Connections is the highlight of my week,” Ms. Nelson said. “I feel like a lot of times it can be hard to match with a volunteer who has something in common with you, so seeing these kids bond over shared talents is incredible.”

She said that she gets a lot of satisfaction out of seeing how fellow students are “putting their God-given talents to such good use and are forming close relationships” with kids who may be from very different circumstances and Jewish backgrounds.

“Each of the volunteers is so passionate and committed,” she said. “The program really runs because of their commitment. And seeing the Chai Lifeline kids develop or improve their passion while going through such hard tjmes is so incredibly inspiring.”

Ms. Gordon said she has gotten a lot of inquiries from other teenagers looking to be Creative Connections volunteer mentors, “but for now we’ve been able to fulfill all requests using Frisch volunteers.”

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