Avodah New Orleans members complete challenging year of service

At the opening retreat last fall for the 2020-21 Avodah Service corps members in New Orleans

On July 21, the 2020-2021 cohort of Avodah’s New Orleans Service Corps celebrated the culmination of their service year as part of an online national celebration.

Avodah New Orleans is a year-long service learning program designed to build the foundations for careers in the public sector, to prepare participants for lifelong activism in social justice movements, and to contribute to the New Orleans community. Participants, age 21 to 26, live in a communal house while being matched for full-time positions at grassroots non-profit organizations that fight poverty, at no cost to the organizations.

Among the organizations served by the 11 New Orleans Avodah members this past year are First 72+, UNITY of Greater New Orleans, Louisiana Fair Housing and Action Center, and more.

Since 2008, Avodah has facilitated partnerships with each placement organization, pairing Service Corps Members with early-career roles at organizations that make an impact in the community, giving the organizations added capacity to serve more people. The program has served more than 44,000 individuals and families across Greater New Orleans.

This year’s cohort rose to the unique challenges of the Covid pandemic, serving clients by phone and video, and providing assistance to the many people and families struggling from economic loss, social isolation, health, and other challenges that the virus posed. Outside of their day jobs, the New Orleans cohort prepared 100 hot meals per week for the city’s unhoused population through a collaboration with Southern Solidarity.

“We are immensely proud to see another generation of changemakers take the next steps in their social justice journeys,” Avodah CEO Cheryl Cook said. “There is such diversity among the passions of this group — future organizers, educators, public servants and entrepreneurs. This cohort will go on to join the nearly 1,400 Avodah alumni who are leaders in their communities on issues of housing justice, criminal justice reform, education, health access, immigration reform and so much more.”

The graduates of Avodah Jewish Service Corps will go on to life-long careers and endeavors in social justice. For some, that means the pursuit of further education for careers in public health, social work, legal advocacy, public policy and more. For others, Avodah opens the door to a career in public service. More than half of Avodah alumni remain in New Orleans, strengthening the community through direct and indirect service.

“Avodah brought me to New Orleans with a lot of intentionality,” Avodah New Orleans Service Corps Member Halle Young, said. “I feel like I’m investing in the city in a really meaningful way and I’m not ready to leave yet… Avodah feels a part of my current growth and the growth I hope to have in the future.”

“This cohort is filled with incredible justice-minded Jewish leaders. The Corps Members work to be in meaningful relationships with the communities they serve, as well as each other,” Avodah New Orleans Program Director Shoshana Madick said. “We are incredibly lucky to have each of them in the New Orleans Jewish community and I look forward to witnessing their continual growth and impact.”

Avodah also operates sites in New York City, Washington and Chicago. In 2022, Avodah intends to expand its Service Corps with two more sites: a bayit specifically designated for Jews of Color in New York City, and a new site in San Diego.

The new Avodah members for 2021-22 will arrive in New Orleans in August. Applications are still being accepted for all Avodah locations, and members will be added through September.