According to Mark Wasserman, creator and director of marketing of Houses for Change, first-grader Hayley Black really understands the Houses for Change program.
When Black, who recently participated in a Houses for Change activity at Temple Beth Orr in Coral Springs, was asked what “Houses for Change” meant to her, she replied that it meant “if you give them the change that you have, you can change their lives to be happy.”
Houses for Change was dreamed up six years ago by Wasserman, a retired government economist who lives in Boca Raton. His idea is for kids to create house-shaped tzedakah (or “charity”) boxes to raise money and awareness for the homeless while having a fun project to work on while helping others.
Wasserman said: “The basic idea is for kids with homes to help kids without.”
For the past four years, Houses for Change has been sponsored nationally by Family Promise — a nonprofit with 186 chapters nationwide providing food, shelter and support services to homeless families.
During this time, 30,000 kids across the country — both Jewish and non-Jewish — have participated in Houses for Change projects, raising more than $400,000 for charities (primarily, but not exclusively, for the homeless).
Led by Ruth Schreiber-Greene, director of lifelong learning at Temple Beth Orr, more than 100 students at Temple Beth Orr participated in a Houses for Change project on Sunday, Dec. 14 at the temple.
Said Brianna Lieberberg, Temple Beth Orr seventh-grader: “I feel that helping out the homeless people is a wonderful mitzvah (good deed). When I do that mitzvah, it makes me feel wonderful inside and that is just an amazing feeling. Especially knowing that I did something good, not just to get something in return, but that I helped someone else that needs so much more than I do.”
According to Wasserman, in addition to creating the tzedakah boxes from the supplied kits to raise money for the homeless, the students got to learn valuable lessons before Hanukkah.
Wasserman said: “The students at Temple Beth Orr got to learn that the holiday is not just about getting, but about giving to others. At a time of year when a lot of kids are simply wondering what they are going to get, here we had a group of young people focused on what they were giving.”
Wasserman pointed out that Houses for Change is an appropriate project for any time of the year, with all the Jewish holidays having their lessons about helping others, including, more specifically, feeding the hungry and helping the homeless.
According to Wasserman, Houses for Change is an innovative, educational arts-and-crafts project for kids to raise awareness and funds to help homeless families. It offers congregations, schools and other organizations a “teachable moment” regarding the causes and effects of homelessness — and provides a hands-on opportunity for participants to make a difference.
Wasserman said: “Houses for Change answers the question, ‘What can I do to help end homelessness?’ Children decorate plain boxes to look like houses and take their boxes home and in the following weeks fill them with loose change. At a selected date, families bring their filled boxes back to the participating organization for a communal donation to fight family homelessness.
“This is not only a fundraiser. Houses for Change is an opportunity to teach children about homelessness and the value of charitable giving. It can be incorporated in fundraising events, holiday activities, educational programs and days of community service. And, it provides local news media with a human interest story — kids helping homeless kids.”
Wasserman would love to bring his program to more schools, synagogues and organizations in South Florida. For more information about Houses for Change, or details how to organize a project, visit http://www.familypromise.org/housesforchange, or contact Wasserman at email@example.com or 561-699-5116.
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