alison-austin-hillel_web.jpgThe Belafonte TACOLCY Center played host Jan. 3 to more than 80 college students from the world’s largest Jewish campus organization, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, as they settled in for a stretch of community service in the Miami area.

Hillel organizers picked TACOLCY because of its longevity, community impact and experienced staff. At the center, the students got a briefing on education in Miami and the role of community-based organizations and orientation for their service in the inner city.

The foundation is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, providing opportunities for Jewish students at more than 500 colleges and universities to explore and celebrate their Jewish identity.

Students in the program come from colleges and universities across the country to participate in community service projects
that teach the importance of education, social justice and social responsibility.

While on their week-long stay in Miami, they performed community service at Lenora B. Smith Elementary School and the Overtown Youth Center.

“I always think of TACOLCY when groups want to find out more about how our community reaches youth in Liberty City because of the CDF Freedom School there. When this Hillel group wanted to learn more about the needs of our education system in Liberty City and Overtown, I thought it was a good fit,” said Lori Drutz, director of the Jewish Volunteer Center at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.

Speakers at the orientation included TACOLCY’s chief executive officer Alison Austin and chief programs officer Jacqueline Clenance and Henry Crawford, principal of Martin Luther King Primary School, a pilot school for an early learning initiative whose student body is made up entirely of 4-year-olds.

Students of TACOLCY’s Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom School put on a show for the visitors.

“I am always appreciative of the opportunity to share with others about the work we do at TACOLCY. It is particularly exciting when I get to impart and share with groups like Hillel because there is an authenticity about giving back and I believe we have an obligation to help cultivate the next generation of leaders,” Austin said.

Haley Sklut, 20, a sophomore journalism major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was delighted with the visit.

“I’m really excited to end my break this way because I love volunteering and especially with kids. This was especially refreshing and energetic,” she said. “The kids were really cute and I expected them to be shy but they really did their thing,”

Alex Simson, 20, a junior Human Development and Education major at Cornell University, also welcomed the chance to visit the center.

“This presentation was good for me because as someone interested in education and making an impact on the school environment, I love to hear how people already in the field implement programs to do that,” Simson said. “Getting to see the kids at TACOLCY come up front is the flesh and blood of the school system and what it represents.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF BELAFONTE TACOLCY CENTER. WELCOME REMARKS: Alison Austin, chief executive officer of the Belafonte TACOLCY Center, welcomes scholars in the Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life who paid a visit on Jan. 3 for an orientation to the area.