Mitzvah Corps Chicago
Issue Focus: Racial Justice
Chicago is the birthplace of community organizing, a focal point of race relations and police brutality, a hub of innovation in medicine and academia, home to both political scandal and triumph, and filled with complex socioeconomic dynamics. Today, while still faced with numerous challenges, the people of Chicago are also at the forefront of addressing them, creating opportunities to bring law enforcement officers together with residents of low income neighborhoods, laying the foundation for passionate individuals and organizations to make their voices heard, and using patience and perseverance to discover sustainable, long term solutions.
Mitzvah Corps Chicago participants will use community organizing to tackle racial justice through the lens of relevant current events, including affordable housing, immigration, education, and more. They'll have the opportunity to experience the ways that grassroots organizing mobilizes communities to fight for justice, play an active role in enacting systemic change around issues in Chicago, and come away from the experience with the skill set to engage their communities back home.
In Partnership With: Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA)
Mitzvah Corps Chicago, run in partnership with the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA), combines JCUA's extensive experience in community organizing and network in Chicago with Mitzvah Corps' deeply rooted Reform Jewish values and commitment to engaging participants in meaningful, relevant Jewish experiences. In partnership with coalitions and directly impacted communities, JCUA works as an ally to address the root causes of disparity through issue-based campaigns, community investment, and bridge-building with communities facing discrimination. Mitzvah Corps Chicago teens benefit from JCUA's unique position in Chicago, as a Jewish organization using a community organizing model to advance systemic change on domestic issues with a local focus.
Mitzvah Corps is committed to providing relevant immersive opportunities to participants, and sustainable support to communities. All of the community organizing and direct service projects are initiated by local community members, and relevant context is thoroughly discussed. It is important to note that the primary method of engaging in social justice on Mitzvah Corps Chicago is through community organizing. While specific projects vary, as we work in response to the evolving needs of the community and take advantage of opportunities as they arise, past projects have included:
- Marching in a protest against deportation with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
- Registering voters
- Meeting with AVODAH: Jewish Service Corps fellows
- Touring and volunteering with KAM Isaiah Israel's urban garden and discussing access to food
- Participating in community organizing workshops with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
- Organizing an interfaith prayer vigil for a trauma center at the University of Chicago
Life on a College Campus
Mitzvah Corps Chicago participants will be living on a safe college campus in the Chicago area, where together they will enjoy:
- Dorm living
- Use of recreational activities
- Variety of dining hall, cooking, and restaurant options
- Connect with Hillel and learn about Jewish life on campus
The Vibrant Culture of Chicago
To supplement the social justice work throughout the summer, Mitzvah Corps values the exposure to everyday life in Chicago, and plenty of time is given to building meaningful relationships with local community members and one another. Participants have the chance to explore:
- Boating on Lake Michigan
- Seeing an improv show
- Visiting The Bean
- Watching an outdoor movie in Millennium Park
- Sampling a variety of local cuisine
- Touring universities
Below is our preliminary itinerary. We refine the schedule as we approach each summer to respond to the evolving needs, and take advantage of the most current opportunities, in the local communities. Shabbat will be observed in the local community on Friday evening and Saturday morning, and Havdallah is celebrated on Saturday evening.
Day 1 - Welcome to Chicago
Throughout arrival day, participants will be flying into Chicago's O'Hare International Airport (ORD), and will be greeted by Mitzvah Corps staff. Once everyone has arrived, the first evening will consist of opportunities to get to know one another, set goals and community guidelines, and to frame the experience ahead.
Day 2 - Different Perspectives
The first full day of the program will offer the group the chance to see Chicago from several angles, traveling the city by foot, vehicle, and boat, and beginning to learn about the subtle biases that our individual identities and privileges bring to the way we interpret what we see. The group will use the evening to set the foundation for community building, and understanding the way that Judaism empowers us to be agents of real change.
Days 3-4 - Introducing Systemic Oppression
As they get acclimated to Chicago, the group will visit and meet with various individuals and organizations to gain a firmer definition and understanding of systemic oppression, its root causes, and the ways that it manifests itself around Chicago. There will also be plenty of time to enjoy some of Chicago's diverse recreational activities, and to take advantage of the bustling city's summer nights.
Days 5-9 - Community Organizing
Over the course of the week, each day will include meetings with leaders from various political, religious, and organizational spheres, workshops to build a strong skill set in community organizing, opportunities to work alongside community members, and time to prepare to mobilize others to fight for civil liberties and racial justice. The schedule will continue to include free time to explore the city, and see the communities themselves in action.
Days 10-11- Taking It Home
As the group prepares to get into their final few days, they'll delve into deep reflection of their experience in Chicago, as well as begin to draw connections to ways they can bring what they've learned back to their home communities.
Day 12 - Return Home
Participants will depart from Chicago's O'Hare (ORD) airport.
How will teens get to and from Chicago?
Participants who do not live within driving distance of Chicago should plan to fly in and out of Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD), where they will be greeted by Mitzvah Corps staff and accompanied back to the program. Detailed instructions on booking travel will be provided upon registration. Travel to and from Chicago is NOT included in the program tuition.
What if a participant needs to travel as an unaccompanied minor?
Domestic carriers have varying regulations regarding unaccompanied minors (read specific policies and fees of major domestic carriers Southwest, United, Delta, American, and JetBlue). Please refer to the protocol of the chosen airline, and notify Mitzvah Corps in advance of the program so that we can provide the contact information for the staff member who will greet the teen upon their arrival, and coordinate a smooth travel experience.
Are vaccinations required for participation on Mitzvah Corps?
The Union for Reform Judaism requires that all camp and travel program participants, staff and faculty must be immunized. Medical exemptions are granted in rare cases; please contact us regarding any potential exemptions prior to registration. For more information, please refer to the URJ Policy Statement on Vaccine Status.
What are the physical requirements for participation on this program?
Mitzvah Corps Chicago is an ADA compliant program. While, as with all Mitzvah Corps programs, participants are expected to be independent and not require consistent one-on-one care, this program does not have any specific physical requirements.
Will participants receive documentation of community service?
Yes! Upon completion, participants will receive documentation for 40 hours of community service. However, it is important to note that, unlike the other Mitzvah Corps programs, hands-on volunteering is not the primary component of the Chicago program. Mitzvah Corps constitutes a wide range of community engagement activities to be community service; if a participant has specific community service requirements to complete, please be in touch with our office for additional details and clarification.
What are the housing accommodations like in Chicago?
Participants and staff will reside in university dorms in the Chicago area. The building and individual rooms are accessible only to members of our group, and the front desk is staffed 24/7 by members of the campus security team.
The group will have use of a dorm building, as well as access to many of the amenities on a college campus. Most meals will be eaten on campus, and there are numerous options to access snacks throughout the day.
Towels, pillows, and bed linens will be provided for each participant.
What kind of clothing should participants pack for Mitzvah Corps?
Summers in Chicago are warm and humid, and participants should expect to spend time both outdoors, doing extensive walking, and in air conditioned indoor spaces. Light, comfortable clothing and close-toed shoes are essential, as well as a waterproof jacket for any summer rain.
Do teens need spending money?
The tuition covers all meals, trips and special programs. Some families may wish to send extra money with their teen to cover meals or snacks eaten at non-meal times, gifts purchased while on trips, and other discretionary items. Anywhere from $30 to $40 per week should be sufficient. The participants will be responsible for their own money. There are ATM machines accessible.
How does Mitzvah Corps handle teens who become ill or injured?
The participants’ health and safety is our primary concern during the summer. In all instances where the health of a teen is in question, parents/guardians will be contacted.
The Mitzvah Corps staff are First Aid/AED and CPR certified, and will carry a variety of supplies and over-the-counter medications at all times; parents/guardians have the option to give permission for the staff to administer these medications while completing the health history forms.
If a teen needs medical attention beyond what can be provided by the staff, or in event of an emergency, the group always has access to quality professional care.