Hebrew High Care-A-Van
Hebrew High Care-A-Van is a project of The Phoenix High School of Jewish Studies, a division of the Bureau of Jewish Education, a proud partner of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix. Care-A-Van is a two week summer excursion that brings together Jewish high school students from across the Valley of the Sun for meaningful community service, Jewish learning, spirituality, socialization and travel. This year marks the 16th year of Care-A-Van. This year, the trip will travel through northern Arizona, Utah, Oregon, Washington state and California. In 2016, the Bureau of Jewish Education introduced a Winter Care-A-Van trip, a week long, one city community service trip. Many students have heralded Care-A-Van as a life changing experience.
What is the mission and purpose of this program?
Hebrew High Care-A-Van is an exciting opportunity for Jewish high school students to add the their Jewish education by incorporating an experiential component:
Students will study about specific commandments (mitzvot) as well as participate in meaningful community service projects (tikkun olam).
Students will have an opportunity to learn and experience prayer and spiritual connection by way of using volunteerism to connect spiritualy with life and its purpose.
Students "get their hands dirty with G-d" as a way of seeing their value and how important their actions are to the greater world.
Each day of the two week trip, except for Shabbat, the participants are involved in volunteer projects that benefit multiple groups of people in multiple cities. Populations that benefit from our volunteer work include the homeless and impoverished, people who are food insecure, children and families in need, wildlife and nature preserves, mentally and physically challenged citizens, seniors and veterans.
Example participants' duties include serving meals, painting houses, arranging birthday parties, clothing and food sorting, city beautification, animal rescue and environmental clean up.
Many studies have concluded that the greatest challenge facing Jewish communities in North America is the engagement of post bar/bat mitzvah teens 8th grade and beyond. Care-A-Van has a 16 year record of attracting, and maintaining involvement with Jewish teens. More than a quarter of participants on Care-A-Van choose to participate in the trip all four years of high school. Many of our participants are not enrolled in Hebrew High and are recruited by friends. Teens of all backgrounds have participated on the trip, and the environment within the trip is open to all denominations of Judaism. The focus is on providing real-world examples of how teens can apply mitzvot and Jewish ethics to the world they live in. Care-A-Van encourages teens to follow up their participation on the trip with participation in local youth groups.
Care-A-Van's greatest accomplishment has been to involve teens not involved in youth groups or synagogue. In 2016 and 2017, each section of the valley will be represented. A significant number of participants will be from families who left synagogue membership following bar/bat mitzvah. Through Care-A-Van, the BJE has been able to keep this select group involved and encourage further communal involvement.
Beyond the participants, our greatest accomplishments are within the projects we complete. Participants have fed countless families, cared for many in need and given of themselves beyond our imagination. Many participants request we return to volunteer in particular cities, as they have built a fond memory or connection to volunteering there.
How do you measure the success of your program?
Care-A-Van's success is measured by the number of teens we continue to engage. This is measured in two ways. One, are participants choosing to return each summer? Are they recruiting friends to become involved. Second, is there a steady influx of incoming 9th graders into the program? If we see participation at the earliest engagement level, we have been successful at reaching the kids most likely to fall away from Jewish communal participation. Third, post trip engagement. Through volunteer opportunities and Hebrew High enrollment, how effective are we at maintaining involvement.
To this date, Care-A-Van accomplishes its goals and can be viewed as a success.