Jewish Journal


May 26, 2010

Swimming to save others


Trying to balance b’nai mitzvah study with schoolwork can feel overwhelming for some students. Throw in a mitzvah project, and it can seem downright daunting.

But for Dayna Samuels, a student at Temple Beth Torah in Ventura, deciding how to help people was simple.

Shortly after hearing about the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti while at her school, Ventura Charter School of Arts and Global Education, Dayna couldn’t tear herself away from the television coverage that followed. The images of Haitian quake victims touched her.

“I knew right then that I needed to help them. I started doing research on the Internet and realized how much there was to do, so I began planning my mitzvah project,” she recalled.

Dayna, a competitive swimmer with the Ventura YMCA Dolphins, is merging her love for the sport and her desire to help the Haitian Earthquake victims into a swim-a-thon at the Ventura YMCA on June 15, two months before her actual bat mitzvah on Aug. 7.

Dayna has spread the word about her event and is taking donations via a FirstGiving Web page at firstgiving.com/daynasamuels. The money raised during the event will be donated to AmeriCares, a top-rated global health and disaster relief organization that delivers medicine and aid to people in need worldwide, including the United States.

Jennifer Grey, AmeriCares’ vice president of individual philanthropy, said that whenever a disaster of this magnitude strikes, people like Dayna want to help and take it upon themselves to organize fundraisers in support of relief efforts.

“We are deeply grateful to supporters who have organized concerts, bake sales, car washes, fashion shows, T-shirt sales and read-a-thons for AmeriCares Haitian relief; we even had one teenager ask for donations to AmeriCares in lieu of bar mitzvah gifts. But Dayna is the first to do a swim-a-thon,” she said.

Grey said that teenagers account for one-third of all individuals who have created Web pages to help promote AmeriCares fundraisers.

Ninety percent of every dollar donated to AmeriCares’ relief fund goes directly to people in need. The remaining 10 percent supports the company’s organizational infrastructure and fully supports emergency response and recovery efforts abroad.

Two months after the quake, AmeriCares donated roughly $20 million to Haitian relief efforts. The organization has also pledged to deliver $50 million in aid to help rebuild the country’s health care system.

The global scale of Dayna’s fundraising interest is unusual. Most of the students in Temple Beth Torah Hebrew school have organized more local mitzvah projects, mostly volunteering for organizations. But Rabbi Lisa Hochberg-Miller said she is not at all surprised by Dayna’s outreach, and she even feels a special connection with her student.

When she was in rabbinical school during the late 1980s, Hochberg-Miller said, she organized a swim-a-thon of her own, raising money to deliver Jews out of Ethiopia.

“It made me smile when I heard Dayna had come up with the idea to do a swim-a-thon as her mitzvah project. To personalize her passion of swimming with helping others is the heart of mitzvah work. We try to teach kids to see what touches their heart and to find what will inspire them to continue to do good deeds,” the rabbi said.

But no one is prouder of Dayna’s accomplishments than her parents.

Her father, Steve, recounted, “I’ve always tried to emphasize to Dayna that we are all in this world together, that we truly are a global community and what affects others touches us directly and indirectly.”

Her mother, Alane, said she’s proud that her daughter found an outlet through which she could help so many people.

“We’ve always been involved in different communities and organizations over the years, and it is so rewarding to see her continue with the mission of helping others less fortunate,” she said.

Dayna said she hopes to do between 50 and 250 laps during her stint in the pool. Her completed laps will be posted on her FirstGiving site.

After the swim-a-thon and bat mitzvah, Dayna said her next goal is to become an Olympic swimmer.

“I might even become a female wrestler,” she said, laughing. “I want to prove to everyone that women can do whatever men can do.”

And that notion also extends to helping others. “I hope this will be the first of a many swim-a-thons I do for charity. Haiti is on the mend, but the disaster isn’t over, and there are other places in the world that need our help, too,” she said.

Teens interested in organizing fundraisers for AmeriCares should contact Jennifer Martins at (800) 486-4357 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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