I’ve been involved with The Pollination Project, a grant-funding organization for a number of years now. Every single day, The Pollination Project awards seed grants up to $1,000 to an individual or group who is making a difference in their community. This global organization does so much good and I am so blessed for the influence they have had in my own life in addition to The Smile Project (we received a grant in 2017).
Last month, their newsletter featured a new grantee, Shoshana Akabas of New York City. As I read about her work as Founder of the New Neighbors Clothing Partnership, I was inspired and deeply moved.
With that, I am so excited to feature her on the first #ServiceSpotlight of 2020.
Liz: Let’s start in traditional Smile Project fashion. Give me a ‘Happiness is.’
Shoshana: Happiness is, for me, the feeling of a strong community and being able to make people feel welcome.
Liz: What is New Neighbors Clothing Partnership?
Shoshana: New Neighbors Clothing Partnership is an initiative that matches newly arrived refugee and asylee families with local New York families who have slightly older kids and can provide hand-me-downs on an ongoing basis. This efficient system makes sure that clothes go directly from the parents who have them to the parents who need them. It eliminates the need for resettlement organizations to run clothing drives (which involves soliciting, collecting, sorting, storing, and distributing clothes every few months), and it offers a meaningful way for local families to help welcome new families to the New York community. And, perhaps most importantly, it provides refugees with the security of knowing their kids will have clothes for the foreseeable future.
Liz: What is the driving force behind what you do?
Shoshana: One of the driving forces for me is my Jewish identity. Jewish people have been wanderers and refugees in every corner of the world, and a core part of the Jewish philosophy is that because we've been "strangers in a strange land," we know how difficult it is, and we're required to help welcome the strangers in our midst.
I was more formally introduced to the world of refugee resettlement when I read a book called What is the What by Dave Eggers. The book had a minor character who volunteered to help resettle refugees in the United States and that seemed like such a meaningful way to make a difference in my community, so I started volunteering for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society when I was in college. I came up with the idea for this initiative when I moved back to NYC for grad school and realized how much time and energy is spent on clothing drives that have to be repeated every few months - I knew there had to be a better way, given all the parents looking for places to donate their kids clothes and all the families who had just arrived to the city and needed the support.
I'd also say that in the 70s, my Aunt Leslie was very involved in helping resettle Russian refugees in her community, and when I was a kid, she taught ESL classes to new immigrants. She passed away last year, and so I hope I can honor her memory in the spirit of my work.
Liz: How can people get involved?
Shoshana: We're always looking for more local families in NYC with kids ages 0-10 to participate and donate. You can find out more on our website.
Liz: Anything else you'd like to add?
Shoshana: A little bit can go a long way in making people feel welcome and included. I think working on this initiative has taught me that more than anything.
Liz: Do you have a favorite quote or piece of advice to leave us with?
Shoshana: There's a beautiful saying from Pirkei Avot, a book of ethical teachings in Judaism, that says, "It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but neither are you free to desist from it."
The problems of the world can seem daunting, but this reminds us that we don't have to do it all - but we are required to do what we can.