By Maya Ron, Maya Pearl, and Anna Leonovich, Mitzvah Corps Southern California 2016 Participants
As our second day of Mitzvah Corps Southern California sadly came to an end, we all sat around together with one common desire – ice cream. So we headed out for a little field trip to a local cookie ice cream sandwich store.
While this may seem unrelated to the issue of poverty and our work here, we quickly realized that ice cream sandwiches and our Mitzvah Corps experiences have a lot in common. In order to create the perfect ice cream sandwich, we had to pick ingredients that would lead us to greatness.
Our Mitzvah Corps journey began with acquainting ourselves with the organizations we would be working with. Half of our group started at Alexandria House, a transitional home for women and children pulling themselves out of homelessness. The other half of our group visited GRID Alternatives, a non-profit organization that provides solar panels to low income families. GRID also partners with Homeboy Industries, an organization that helps former gang member and ex-convicts transition into the workforce. Our GRID team has been helping with canvassing neighborhoods and visiting with Homeboy, while the Alexandria team has been having fun with some energetic kids.
While waiting in line for our ice cream, we struggled to compose the perfect masterpiece. But we eventually made decisions and chose our flavors, and finally we had sandwiches in hand. However, for the men and women associated with Alexandria House and Homeboy Industries, the path to success has not been so easy. Many individuals of Alexandria and Homeboys alike have been faced with immense challenges and limited opportunities, but no matter how many twists and turns their paths take, there is always a chance for a happy ending.
Every ice cream sandwich has two cookies, but they each play very different roles. The bottom cookie acts as the support, the foundation for the rest of the sandwich. The organizations we are working with similarly support the local community. They provide housing and job training to help people climb out of poverty. Different from the bottom cookie, the top balances out the sandwich. These organizations balance the harsh pasts and the bright futures of those they work with. They also take steps to promote economic equality and stabilize wealth distribution.
The heart of the ice cream sandwich is obviously the ice cream, For us, the sweetest parts so far has been seeing the children at Alexandria laughing and getting to just be kids, despite facing homelessness and a surplus of adversity. It was also working with low income families to fill out interest forms for GRID, opening the door to the possibility of providing them with energy savings.
These sweet moments have been the most rewarding part of our journey so far. As we take the last bites of our perfect, dripping ice cream sandwiches, we look forward to the next 12 days of this amazing, and often sweet, learning and growing experience.