Doing volunteer work seems like a no-brainer: We help others and feel better about ourselves in the process. Yet, we all have legitimate excuses for why we don’t volunteer. Perhaps it’s a lack of time, specific skills, local opportunities or social confidence.

Thankfully, there’s a better way to doing good. A burgeoning Israeli non-profit called OneDay Social Volunteering  is steadily growing a network of young adult volunteers, ages 18 to 35, throughout Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem by breaking down the common barriers to volunteering.

The OneDay model

OneDay’s simple but innovative model promises volunteers meaningful impact, dynamic activities and social interaction with no commitment necessary.

To achieve this, they partner with other nonprofit organizations to create one-day volunteer events that serve the partner’s given need. As soon as the event is complete, OneDay immediately follows it with a social outing where volunteers connect further. Also, the work never gets stale due to the revolving partnerships. In a given month, activities may aid the elderly, African refugee children, adults and children with special needs, rescued animals or other groups in need.

OneDay founder Elad Blumenthal designed the model specifically to make volunteering more accessible and enjoyable for his peers.

“After finishing the army, I moved to New York for a little while and had a very free schedule that allowed me to volunteer,” he says. “I found it to be a great way to feel like a part of the community and build my social circle as well. But back in Israel, I couldn’t commit to four hours a week anymore. Once you’re in your day-to-day life, it’s not so easy to make that commitment — especially in our generation; people work really hard.”

So Blumenthal nixed the “commitment” component, and the response has been strong. Since launching in December 2014, OneDay Social Volunteering has organized 80 volunteering events, contributed a sum of 6,000 volunteering hours, engaged roughly 2,300 volunteers, and has a growing database of 5,000 prospective volunteers.

OneDay volunteers sorting used clothing for distribution at a warehouse in Moshav Avichail near Netanya. Photo via Facebook
OneDay volunteers sorting used clothing for distribution at a warehouse in Moshav Avichail near Netanya. Photo via Facebook

The numbers are impressive. But to get at the true heart of OneDay’s impact, this reporter rolled up her sleeves at a recent volunteer event.

The volunteer and social experience

Among the several scheduled volunteer activities, I chose to help paint the home of residents with psychiatric disabilities, confident it’ll be a fun challenge.

On the Friday morning of the event, I reluctantly peel myself out of bed, dress in my shabbiest clothes and remind myself that I will feel good by the day’s end.

But I don’t have to wait that long. As soon as I join roughly 25 other volunteers at the home, I feel energized by the good vibes. Among the chatter and excitement, the happiest person among us is “Edan,” a resident who has eagerly awaited a renovation since he moved in two years ago.

Enosh,  a nonprofit that promotes the welfare and rights of people dealing with psychiatric disabilities, provided “Edan” the home through a rehabilitative housing program. And thanks to OneDay’s partnership with Enosh, “Edan” now has a personal renovation team for the day.

“The main goal for me is to bring a great platform where people will hang out together and make a difference.”

Once inside the apartment, we divide up into teams of four to tackle the various rooms. OneDay’s volunteer site-leader, Guy Broder, ensures that everyone gets paint, rollers and plastic trays.

“I’ve never painted before; I hope I don’t do a bad job!” says Danit Weiss, who began volunteering with OneDay nearly a year ago. Within minutes, Weiss gains her confidence and admires her work. “Wow, this wall is looking good. Can we all go to my apartment next?” she laughs.

As we continue painting, we smudge a few light switches, windowsills and, of course, each other. One of OneDay’s most active volunteers, Boris Gurovich, minimizes our damage by taping sheets of plastic to the floorboards.

“You’re putting down plastic on the floors now?” I ask. “I think we needed it that a little earlier,” I joke (concealing my guilt for stepping in paint and tracking it a bit).

“Well, I tried to do it before we started, but there just wasn’t time,” he says. “Now I’m doing the best I can.”

That’s the spirit of the day; to do the best we can. No one expects perfection, just a heartfelt effort. In that sense, we succeed. By early afternoon, the apartment’s walls have gone from a dingy gray to a sparkling white, and “Edan” is elated with the transformation.

“Thank you so, so much,” he says emotionally as we gather around to say goodbye. “You’ve done a great job. Shabbat shalom!”

With the work complete, nearly half the volunteers join for the optional social activity at a local restaurant. As we sit down to a well-earned lunch, people begin deeper conversations (beyond that of paint and rollers).

“I’ve definitely made friends from OneDay,” says Weiss, who is from Netanya. “I wanted to expand my social network, especially when it came to meeting non-Israelis.”

Apparently, Weiss found the right place. Among our lunch group, we represent five countries: Russia, Sweden, Canada, the US and, of course, Israel.

“This is what I like most,” says Blumenthal, the founder. “At our events, you hear many languages. We have people from about 11 countries [total], and that’s amazing.”

Growing one day at a time

In 18 short months, OneDay has grown from a grassroots group that held one monthly event in Tel Aviv to an all-volunteer staff of 30 that organizes upwards of five events per month across Jerusalem, Haifa and the Tel Aviv metro area. In the future, Blumenthal hopes to bring OneDay to Jewish communities abroad and is exploring partnerships with the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’Nefesh to do so.

But, for now, he’s focused on meeting the heightened demand in Israel, which means more partnerships and fundraising.

“We don’t want anyone who wants to volunteer to be stuck on a waitlist. So, we aim to do five to six events a month in Tel Aviv and increase them in Haifa and Jerusalem too. The main goal for me is to bring a great platform where people will hang out together and make a difference.”

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