The national non-profit organization City Year, believes in empowering young people (aged 17-24) to make a difference in the life of a community through citizen service. Since 1988, when the idea was first cooked up by then-college roommates Michael Brown and Alan Khazei, City Year has united participants with diverse backgrounds in a year of full-time service.

This year, City Year Care Force teamed up with Hillel to create an amazing hybrid: a week-long alternative spring break for Hillel students that combines the best of both organizations’ missions. I recently spoke with City Year’s Care Force Senior Project Manager, Vanessa Meisner, to learn more…

What key values does City Year hope that participants learn during their service?

We stress the benefit of working in teams, leadership development, and working with people from diverse backgrounds. If you’re trying to make positive movement and positive change in the world, diversity and working together is key.

Interview continued + a video slideshow below the jump…

When did the Hillel/City year partnership begin and what was the impetus?

It started informally last year with an event we did with the Schusterman Foundation, where a Jewish fraternity came to LA for a week of service. It went really well, and this year we kept it going with Hillel. Our first official Hillel/City Year partnership was this January.

What have been some of the projects that Hillel’s alternative spring break students have worked on?

The work they do is very similar to all of City Year’s programs – we incorporate many service components in one. One piece includes physical service like painting rooms, murals or benches. In the afternoon they work with children, participating in after school programs and mentoring. The difference is, the Hillel group does a half day of service on Friday, and that day is ideally dedicated to service within the Jewish community like volunteering at a Jewish eldercare facility, which ties everything together.

Volunteer response has amazing. Throughout the week, the Hillel side’s organizers plan for speakers to come in and tie everything they volunteers are doing back together. The whole week really flows and the students leave with this emotional week of transformation. Some of the participants had literally never picked up a hammer or worked with children before. They went from saying, “I can’t do this,” to “I love this and want to do this all the time.”

Aside from obviously being shorter, are there ways that a shorter program like this differs from the year long service?

It’s very different- a year-long service commitment has a completely different, and more gradual, time line. The tone is about incremental change and development, instead of a short, intense immersion experience. But often the week of service leads to more. Participants say, “Wow, if this moved me so much for a week, what would an entire year be like?”

Many faiths, Judaism included, have embedded values of service within the tradition. Do you find any differences in the way the group works when it comes from a background of faith?

Yes, absolutely. The values of service embedded in Judaism were tied into everything the kids did, and it was great to see that all play out over the week. I think it’s obvious why Hillel does these service trips – the effect it has on college students is wonderful. It’s a very positive emotional week, and very empowering to see what they can do in such a short period of time.

Check out this video from Hillel’s recent City Year alternative spring break.

*Video slideshow put together by participant Samantha Zucker.