Wednesday, May 29, was the final session of I-Shine for the academic year. The event was held at Rockin’ Jump of Ridge Hill in Yonkers. Wearing their Rockin’ Jump socks, participants jumped for an hour, followed by pizza and a celebration of three upcoming birthdays.
I-Shine is an afterschool program designed for families dealing with difficult health issues or loss of a parent or child. The program targets families whose lives are disrupted as they deal with medical problems and a multitude of other responsibilities. The program is dependent on many high school juniors and seniors who volunteer their time as “big brothers” and “big sisters” to the participating kids.
Coordinator Yvette Finkelstein summarized the inaugural year. “Our high school volunteers are the heart and soul of our I-Shine program. They are truly awesome!”
Finkelstein continued, “From the day our teen volunteers met our I-Shine kids, the bonding was remarkable. New friends were made and smiles and happiness abounded. Activities were varied and fun.”
“I decided to do I-Shine because these kids are going through a tough time. If I can personally make a positive impact on their lives and make friends along the way, I would love nothing more,” explained SAR student Josh Orlian. “I think my favorite moment this year happened outside of I-Shine. There was one day where one of the boys I was with regularly didn’t like what was being served for dinner. I jokingly asked if he wanted to go for pizza, and the next thing I knew I was driving with my boys. Leaving the setting, as fun as it is there, gave me an incredible opportunity to have a new outlook on what I-Shine was to me. It felt I was hanging out with friends as I normally would rather than doing chesed. I’d have to say that was the best experience of the year.”
Surie Rosensaft, also from SAR, commented, “One of the points of I-Shine is to dissolve the age gap and just be friends. I really do think we did that, and now each of us has more friends. We all have an amazingly fun time together, and I think this does help the children. Even if they still have to deal with whatever is going on with their families, I have at least helped them by giving them a new friend, and by giving them a few hours a week of just carefree fun. Also, I personally formed really strong bonds with some of the kids, and I talk to them on the phone, text them; I may even take them out for ice cream. Overall, how can a program that is constructed purely of fun activities and delicious snacks not have a positive and happy effect?”
New Rochelle student Jonah Zisholtz expressed, “I was recommended to the program by a close family friend. She said it was a worthwhile program that I would enjoy participating in.”
Zisholtz continued, “My favorite moment from the program was when I would walk in the room and see my assigned I-Shine buddy’s face light up with joy as one of his new friends was here to spend the afternoon with him. By volunteering at I-Shine, I have gained a strong understanding of families’ sacrifices when a child or parent gets sick. My ability to assist in helping a young child forget the hardships that exist at home was extremely rewarding. I helped the children by putting a smile on their faces and helping them forget the difficult and unfortunate circumstances that exist at home.”
SAR high school Senior Abby Minkove defined her experience: “This year has really been a transformative year. I have learned so much through each of the kids, but honestly the biggest thing I have learned is resilience and the power of friendship, someone to provide unending support.”
Minkove added, “We didn’t know what the background or situations such a kid is walking through, but giving them something to look forward to and something that made them happy, made me so happy. I was always upset when I had to miss a Wednesday because it was really the highlight of my week. Whatever else I had going on during that week was put aside for three hours so each kid can have my undivided attention. I have really been awed and amazed by each kid. Each kid responds differently to situations, but what I saw from every kid was a will power and a desire. Each kid came smiling and ready for every week. Being around each kid, you couldn’t help but smile, even if they run you ragged.”
In addition to the student volunteers, I-Shine depends on adults and professionals volunteering their time. Andrea Samet, the I-Shine events coordinator, reminisced, “A few events that I feel were very memorable were the LEGO cars that the kids built and raced. They worked so hard together to get them going and came back and remade them to go faster. Each child felt a great sense of satisfaction as the cars went faster and faster with each tweak. Another was the cake wars where we really got to see the creativity of the kids with the themed suggestions we gave them for three different cakes. I got such joy from watching them have so much fun and asking can we do this again?!”
Lauryn Weiser, an SAR faculty member, expressed, “There are so many significant moments inspired by I-Shine. One that stands out was a meeting around Yvette’s dining room table I was privileged to be a part of, where it was apparent that the I-Shine dream was truly going to be a reality. Logistics and a launch date were in place. Families were looking forward to having their children benefit from the program. The response from the community was overwhelmingly positive and the number of volunteers was outstanding.”
Serving as teacher coordinator, Weiser added, “I chose to volunteer through education. I helped to coordinate teacher volunteers who helped oversee that homework help was provided. Kids were able to complete their nightly homework and parents had the relief of knowing that their children were keeping up with their assignments. Taking homework off their plate for just one evening makes life that much easier.”
I-Shine plans to resume at Westchester Day School in the fall.
By Judy Berger