Vancouver Talmud Torah (VTT) elementary school recently received a US$6,000 ($7,950) award from Random Acts, a Los Angeles-based organization whose mission is to conquer the world with one random act of kindness at a time.
The school’s Chesed Club was one of many submissions from around the world that was received by Random Acts, all of them celebrating kindness and spreading hope. But VTT “really stood out to us, which is why we chose them as our 2019 class act winner,” said Lisa Cerezo, a staff writer for the organization.
The Chesed Club was initiated five years ago by Shoshana Burton, VTT’s director of Hebrew. “I noticed many kids looking for hands-on leadership opportunities and wanting to be engaged in voluntary leadership opportunities,” she recalled. So she created the club for the Grade 6 classes. Participants were required to fill out an application to join the group and, if accepted, sign a contract that they would comply with the group’s decisions. The club meets weekly to discuss issues its members find relevant, meaningful and worthy of their support.
“Last year, we discussed kids around the world who don’t have basic human rights and decided to spend a day in complete silence in solidarity with kids who don’t have a voice,” she said. The club held a toy fair to sell donated books and toys, as well as bracelets made by women in Kenya. The $3,600 raised was donated to a village in Kenya, where it subsidized the schooling costs for 72 children. “The idea was that education is the key for members of a society to understand human rights – so they can change their lives and have a voice,” Burton said.
The club has fundraised for a women’s shelter in Israel and for an Israeli animal therapy centre, which treats children suffering from anxiety and trauma as a result of terrorism. This year, 28 students have applied to be club members and their work is far from limited to fundraising.
“Members mentor the Grade 3 classes, collect recycling around the school and help ensure their environment is clean and presentable,” Burton explained.
“The students lead every initiative and it’s all democratically decided and voted on, to ensure everyone is committed to an idea. Every year, the club is different, as different kids participate and different issues are raised. The key is giving students a voice, because once they drive an idea, it has a life of its own. All I do is facilitate.”
The school’s Grade 7 students prepared over 500 lunches and delivered them to the homeless in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The program, called Food For Your Thoughts, saw students distributing food in exchange for hearing the life stories from the people they met.
They collected school supplies and filled 63 backpacks, each one containing a personal letter of encouragement. The backpacks were distributed to first graders in local inner-city schools. They also held a school-wide food drive for the local Muslim food bank, in honour of Ramadan, preparing 100 packaged meals for Muslim families in need.
Cerezo said the team at Random Acts was “simply blown away by the variety of kind acts you’ve shared in your community. We wish you and your Chesed Clubs all the best in your future kindness endeavours.”