December 28, 2006
Rebecca Levinson: Born to Be a Volunteer
"This is what you do," the 17-year-old junior at North Hollywood's Oakwood School, said matter of factly.
Just recently Levinson, who goes by Becca, joined PEP/LA, the Peer Education Project of Los Angeles dealing with HIV/AIDS. She has been trained to lead informal discussions with other teenagers on ways to avoid risk-taking sexual behaviors. Already Levinson has spoken at Children of the Night, an organization dedicated to helping child prostitutes.
In addition, for a second year, Levinson is mentoring Francisco, currently a fifth-grader at North Hollywood's Monlux Elementary School. She meets with him weekly, tutoring him in whatever subjects he needs help.
"He is super-duper cute and obsessed with magnets," Levinson said.
And last summer she spent a month in El Salvador through Putney Student Travel Global Awareness in Action program. She traveled with 15 other teenagers to San Salvador, where the group learned about the country's history as well as immigration, globalization and other issues.
They then traveled Santa Marta, a small town on the Honduras border, where they lived in a communal home and assisted the local residents. Levinson, who chose to look into economy and gender issues, worked in a women's bakery every day, baking bread and talking with the workers. Additionally, she did some AIDS outreach education.
"It was a great experience," she said. "It taught me how one country's decisions affect the world."
Volunteering is in her blood. Her father, David Levinson, is the founder of Big Sunday, which began in 1999 as Temple Israel of Hollywood's Mitzvah Day and evolved into an annual citywide day of volunteering, now co-sponsored by the mayor. Last year's event had 30,000 volunteer participants.
This past Big Sunday, Rebecca Levinson manned the clothing market at the Figueroa Street School carnival, which was actually a schoolwide fair and community service day coordinated her mother, Ellie Herman. Levinson's job was procuring and selling clothes for a minimal amount.
"It was more stressful than I thought it would be," she said. "Only about five people spoke English." While Levinson's activities seem disparate, she explained the connection.
"They are all interactive. It is necessary for both people to gain something," she said.
An exception, however, is the American Cancer Society Relay for Life event she organized last year at Walter Reed Middle School.
"A lot of people in my family have had cancer, and I felt an obligation," she explained. She will facilitate the event again this year, hoping to broaden the turnout.
Levinson's other major interest is drawing, which she hopes to combine with her passion for social justice. "There are a lot of different ways to communicate with people that interest me," she said.
As for her future, she wants to become fluent in Spanish. She's also developed an interest in economics as well as international relations after her summer in El Salvador.
"We've been dragging the kids along ever since they can remember, whether to nursing homes to sing or to furnish apartments for the homeless," David Levinson said. "But Rebecca has found her own path and knows where she can be most useful."
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