April 19, 2007
Big Sunday: One temple’s ‘Mitzvah Day’ goes city-wide and inclusive
Is it too big, too secular or just big enough?
(Page 3 - Previous Page)The lack of more involved volunteers is not surprising. The number of national volunteers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fell in 2006 to 61.2 million, or 26.7 percent of the population. That's down from 65.4 million, or 28.8 percent of the population, the previous year. Still, the median number of hours dedicated to volunteering is holding steady at 52.
But, to be fair, Big Sunday is marketed to attract the participant who may have time to volunteer only that one day, and Big Sunday chair Levinson is realistic regarding what can be accomplished within that time frame.
"We're not clearing land mines in Cambodia," he said.
This year, however, the two-day span does allow for some larger projects to be undertaken, such as the huge restoration project planned for Casa de Rosa Sunshine Mission, a residence for homeless women in South Los Angeles that was originally built in the 1890s.
Under the direction of decorators and landscape architects who are donating their services, volunteers, along with the women of Casa, will clear and clean up the overgrown gardens and terraces, plant trees, flowers and vegetable gardens and even rebuild a patio, providing the shelter with a serene and inspirational outdoor living area.
And for many organizations, Big Sunday is an extension of an already established relationship, allowing the opportunity for supplemental projects.
That is the case at Pico Aliso Preschool in East Los Angeles, where Temple Israel has an ongoing reading program. Last year, groups from Temple Israel and B'nai David-Judea Congregation, as well as the preschool families, came together on Big Sunday to decorate concrete pavers that were used to construct a 30-foot walkway, ensuring that the preschoolers would no longer have to trudge in the sand or mud from the school to the playground.
"It wasn't a big architecturally designed thing," said team captain Berenice Katcher of Temple Israel, referring to the freehand lettering that spelled out "Big Sunday" on the pavers. "But there was lots of harmony and laughter."
And for some people, Big Sunday is the actual catalyst that propels them to make a larger commitment.
This happened to Temple Israel volunteer Armin Szatmary, who was asked many years ago to head the Bowling With Buddies project, benefiting those with intellectual disabilities. He so enjoyed the experience, that he contacted the nonprofit Best Buddies California and has been teamed up with Thomas, 53, for the past five years, spending time together every other week.
"I would never have done Bowling With Buddies. I knew nothing about mentally challenged people," he said.
There have been no formal studies to evaluate the impact of Mitzvah Day, and perhaps there is no way to adequately quantify the good works and good will that occur on Big Sunday.
For the Figueroa Street Elementary School in Watts, Big Sunday is "a gift of togetherness" to the 680 students and their families, according to principal Jan Titus.
Big Sunday provides the school with the refreshments; entertainment, such as magic and animal shows; and the people power to host an annual community carnival, allowing the families, many with parents working two and three jobs, the luxury to socialize, at no cost to them. Plus, additional Big Sunday projects, such as planting gardens, painting murals and stairwells and cleaning out storage areas, have helped transform the site aesthetically.
"Everything is first class and from the heart," Titus said. "Big Sunday is totally, totally about making the world a better place."