YM&YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood

Not Your Typical 12-Year-Old

Garrett Friedman is not your typical 12 year old boy from the West Side of Manhattan. While most boys his age spend Sunday afternoon in a sports league, playing video games, or hanging out with friends, Garrett spends a portion of his Sundays at the Y volunteering at our Sunday Funday program for children with special needs.

The Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony is an important time in every Jewish teen’s life. It is the time where they enter the beginning stages of adulthood and independence as they leave the life of adolescence. Along with this transformation is the instilling of the idea that we are one among many in this world, and we must do our part to affect others in a positive manner through “mitzvah” or “good deeds”. The fact that teens choose to volunteer their time to help others is proof of how serious they take this life change.

Being a non-profit, the Y relies heavily on volunteers in order to make programs successful. The Y has a history with teen volunteers approaching Bar/Bat Mitzvah age, and we are proud to host Garrett during this important time in his life. As you will learn, Garrett is not the first in his family to volunteer his time at the Y as he continues his family’s legacy of caring volunteers. Garrett came to us through The UJA-Federation Give a Mitzvah-Do a Mitzvah project. “The Give a Mitzvah–Do a Mitzvah program enables bar and bat mitzvah students to create their own unique mitzvah project that connects their interests and hobbies to UJA-Federation of New York’s work around the world. Alongside a UJA-Federation mitzvah coordinator, participants brainstorm individual projects and then contribute their time, energy, and a portion (or all) of their gifts to this special mitzvah project.”

Garrett chose to devote his time to help the staff of our Sunday Funday program for children with special needs. It is crucial for children with autism to have typically developed teens close to them in order to model positive behaviors and appropriate responses. The goal for these children is to improve social skills, and the warm welcome Garrett received demonstrates that his warm personality and sincerity to be helpful are working, and the Y is achieving our goals by fostering meaningful connections.

Garrett was kind enough to share his thoughts on his experiences here at the Y.

How did you find about the Y and how did you get involved?

My Hebrew School tries to get people to volunteer before their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. When my sister had her Bat Mitzvah, she taught kids guitar and helped kids with homework here at the Y. When it was my turn, my family and I decided to try the Y again and I liked it.

How long have you been volunteering at the Y?

I have been working at the Y for over two months now.

What are some of the things you like about the volunteer program?

I like how I get to interact with the special needs children directly, which lets me learn more about them. I also really enjoy the fact that I know that I am helping them.

(During weeks that Garrett is unable to attend, the children consistently inquire about his whereabouts, a testament to the close relationships Garrett has built with these children).

Is special needs education an area you would like to get into?

It interests me a lot. These children think differently and act differently, which makes me very interested.

Is there something that happened to you here that was memorable?

The first time I walked in, some of the older kids in the program approached me and said “Hi!’ “How are you?” “Come sit down with us!”. They made me feel very welcome. I thought to myself “this could be a really fun experience”. It was very surprising to me. I enjoy working with the team very much.

What are you plans for your upcoming Bar Mitzvah?

I will be celebrating my Bar mitzvah next September in New York. I am going to start studying soon to read from the Torah. I am very excited!

If you or your teenage child would like to participate in our volunteer programs like Garrett, contact the Y today!

About the Y
Established in 1917, the YM&YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood (the Y) is Northern Manhattan’s premier Jewish community center — serving an ethnically and socio-economically diverse constituency — improving the quality of life for people of all ages through critical social services and innovative programs in health, wellness, education, and social justice, while promoting diversity and inclusion, and caring for those in need.

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