The Reform Teen Initiative took teens on an Alternative Spring Break trip in March 2019 to New Orleans, LA. Teens had the opportunity to volunteer with Youth Rebuild New Orleans, building homes in the Bayou St. John neighborhood, and with Second Harvest Food Bank. Teens also visited the Whitney Plantation and Lower Ninth Ward. In addition to these educational experiences, teens enjoyed their time eating beignets at Cafe Du Monde, touring Tulane University, and exploring the French Quarter.
There was also a college tours trip in November of 2019 where teens visited Bradley University and Indiana University. Teens experienced two different campus tours, visited with current students at Hillel's, enjoyed a Shabbat Hillel experience, and got to bond with one another. Teens expressed that they enjoyed being able to tour one small private university and a larger public campus.
Immersive experiences like this which combines direct service and Jewish learning are proven to have a significant impact on the Jewish identity development of teens. A Repair the World study of Alternative Break participants found that 92% of participants reported positive change related to Jewish identity as a result of their experience. St. Louis’s Reform congregations have partnered to create more of these experiences for teens as part of the Reform Teen Initiative. The Initiative works to develop new entry points and strengthen existing opportunities by leveraging the collective resources of the community’s Reform congregations to galvanize the entire Jewish community to more actively engage teens in Jewish life. Central Reform Congregation, Congregation Shaare Emeth, Congregation Temple Israel, Temple Emanuel, and United Hebrew Congregation are all members of the Initiative which is funded in part by a grant from the Jewish Federation of St. Louis.